06.12.22: Fall goldfinch

An American Goldfinch in non-breeding plumage perches in a field, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

An American Goldfinch in non-breeding plumage perches in a field, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

Fading plumage marks end of goldfinch season

Goldfinch breed later in the year than most other birds. Courtship begins in late July and I typically start seeing juvenile goldfinch in the fields in late September. 

There are three times a year when wildlife photography in Central Ohio is less than routine.

There's spring and fall, when migration increases the variety of birds in the area.

And there’s "goldfinch season," primarily July and August, when the male American Goldfinch sports its bright yellow breeding plumage and is active in area fields.

This photo was captured in October, after the end of goldfinch season, when male goldfinch have faded from their breeding plumage and, like the females, are less eye-catching.

The males’ bright yellow breeding plumage and black "cap" show up after the spring molt (I typically start seeing some bright-yellow males in June). But during the remainder of the year there is little distinctive about the goldfinch. Outside of the summer breeding season the male is an olive color and loses the black cap. Females remain a dull yellow-brown all year, although some will brighten slightly during the summer months. The wing and tail feathers remain black on the male year-round. The female has dark brown wing and tail feathers.

Goldfinch breed later in the year than most other birds. Courtship begins in late July and I typically start seeing juvenile goldfinch in the fields in late September. The immature goldfinch has a dull brown back and pale yellow underside. The white markings on the wings of the adult are replaced with a buff color on the juvenile.

Although American Goldfinch are plentiful in the area during summer and fall, they are still difficult to photograph. The birds blend with colors in the fields each season, which makes them difficult to see. And when one bird is startled and flies off, it’s joined by hundreds of others. So it takes quite a bit of patience to photograph goldfinch.

Tech specs

  • Date/time: Oct 21, 2017 10:33 AM   
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Lens: EF600mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x 
  • Focal length: 840mm
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter: 1/1000 second
  • ISO: 500

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