Others have called it " the dapper Finch." and applied to it many endearing epithets ; which our readers, we arc sure, will be ready to echo, for a universal favourite is Master Goldie. If you want to see him in his glory you should go forth on a bright autumnal day to some common or other waste ground, where thistles grow abundantly ; there he is feasting on the downy seeds, and flitting about in the sunshine from clump to clump, in his suit of silky brown, and black, and gold, and red, as happy as a bird can be; every now and then twittering out his lively song, as he scatters upon the gale the white flocculi, by means of which the thistle-seeds are wafted far and wide over the surrounding landscape.
In nearly all parts of Great Britain may the goldfinch be found wild; it is a permanent resident with us, and by no means a shy bird. Its song commences about the end of March, and continues till July or August; it is not powerful, but very sweet, and sufficiently varied to make it agreeable to the ear; for mellowness of tone and plaintiveness, it is considered by good judges to be second to few, if any, of our native songsters. Early in spring, and again in the autumn, goldfinches may commonly be met with in small flocks of from twenty to thirty ; severe winters kill a great many of them.
In the breeding season they leave the open country, and resort to woods and thickets, orchards and groves, where they build their nests, - generally amid the higher branches of fruit and other trees ; sometimes in tall thick hedges and evergreens. They are very neat builders, and use mosses, lichens, root-fibres, and grass-stalks, closely interwoven; for lining, they usually prefer wool, hair, and thistle or other vegetable down. The nest is perfectly hemispherical, like that of the chaffinch, by which only, perhaps, it is excelled in finish and compactness. Mudie well observes that " the nest of the goldfinch is literally a cradle, and the young are rocked by the winds in their hatching-place, nearly as much as they are to be afterwards on the tall and flexible stems on which they are to find their food." And this is doubtless a wise ordination, in order that the birds may become early accustomed to the rocking motion, and acquire confidence thus to seek and to seize that which is necessary to their existence. Being frequently placed in such exposed situations, were the nest not very closely and compactly woven, and firmly fixed in its place, it would be liable to be torn in pieces, and scattered by the winds, or at least detached from the" lofty bough on which it rests, to the destruction of its precious contents ; but this seldom happens, and the little structure swings as safely in its apparently dangerous position, as the sailor-boy upon the mast, when the wild blasts howl and whistle fearfully around him.
The eggs, of which there is rarely more than one laying in a season, are from four to six in number, of a bluish gray colour, sometimes inclining to green; they are sparely marked with light and dark reddish spots and stripes. The young birds, if taken, should be fed on poppy or well-soaked rape-seed, mixed with crumbs of white bread moistened with milk.
Wild goldfinches may be caught in spring by means of a decoy-bird, placed in a cage set round with limed twigs or nooses. In autumn and winter bundles of thistles will best attract them. If these are fastened to a tree, and armed with springes or limed twigs, they are most likely to be successful. They may also be taken in nets; as many as one hundred and fifty having been caught in this manner on a single morning.
Some goldfinches are smaller than others; but the standard size may be stated at five inches and a half, the tail measuring about two inches. It is scarcely necessary, with So familiar a bird, to describe its peculiar conformation and markings ; the bright scarlet in front of the head and round the base of the beak; the glossy black crown, vertex, wing-coverts, and tail-feathers, so beautifully relieved by the white and golden spots and interlacings, and contrasted by the soft brown of the back, all go to make up a picture at once striking and harmonious; and which, aided by the sprightly motions, sweet song, and engaging qualities of the bird, produce a powerful effect upon the mind and imagination. Bird-catchers tell us that the female may be distinguished from the male goldfinch by its smaller size, and deficiency of some of the white tips of the pinion-feathers; but this must by no means be taken as a distinctive mark. The hen bird is generally smaller altogether, the red about the beak is neither so broad nor so vivid, the beak is a deeper brown, and, there is more of this latter colour diffused over various parts of the body. In shape, as well as in markings, the head somewhat varies, as will be seen by the engravings.
Although there is but one species, there are several distinctly marked varieties of the goldfinch, such as - 1st, the yellow-breasted; 2nd, the white-headed; 3rd, the black-headed ; 4th, the white; 5th, the black goldfinch. These latter are sometimes entirely black, or they retain a yellow spot upon the wing ; age, or a too constant feeding upon hemp-seed, will often cause the plumage to assume this sombre hue. It has also been produced in young birds, by a careful exclusion of light from them; but at the first moulting, after the cage was uncovered, they assumed their more natural colours. Dealers speak very learnedly about these several varieties, and recommend this or that for certain good qualities peculiar to itself; but it is all a matter of accident, and the dress is no indication whatever of disposition or ability, although it may be, in some cases, of age or state of health. If one goes to purchase a goldfinch, he will most likely hear of what are called "speckled birds," which have a white spot under the throat; of " whitethroats,'.' or " cheverels," and "bastard whitethroats," - the former having a white streak entirely down the throat, and the latter about halfway down. For these, high prices will be asked, as they are scarce birds; but they are no better, as songsters, than others. Young goldfinches, that have not moulted have no crimson about the head, and in this state are called " graypates." "When they have attained their full age and perfect plumage, "gold-wings" is a term frequently applied to them. If you have a good teacher to put them under, it is well to get the younger birds, and, when the moulting season comes on, to cover the cage with flannel, so as to keep them very warm; they will then throw off their old and assume their new feathers quickly, and be fresh and vigorous for their educational fatigues. "Stopping," "backing," or, more properly, " pushing a bird on," is the name given to the process above described. In the wild state the goldfinch feeds upon all kinds of seeds, more especially those of the cruciform plants; beetles and other insects it takes occasionally ; like the pigeon, it prepares in the crop the food intended for its young. In confinement it should have canary, rape, maw, or poppy-seed, and hemp-seed now and then, especially when breeding or moulting. It should also be supplied with green food, and have plenty of water for bathing as well as drinking. It is a voracious eater, and when put with other birds will often mount guard over the feeding-trough, and drive away all comers; yet it is not quarrelsome, but lives in harmony with its companions, especially if they belong to its own genus. The health of the bird is very much promoted by an occasional treat of thistle-seed, which it likes to pick out itself. It is rather subject to epilepsy, and to bad and swollen eyes. The former should be treated according to the directions given for the canary, and the latter anointed with fresh butter. Captive goldfinches have been known to live to the age of twenty-four years. When old they lose the bright red and yellow of their plumage, and frequently become blind. A goldfinch's cage should not be less than nine or ten inches long, by seven broad, and about the same in height; its breeding accommodations should be the same as those provided for the canary.