Charming little bird on the rise
Posted: 24 January 2008 02:37 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Not a parrot, but great news for a parrot-like bird in Ireland, thought you might enjoy,



Charming little bird on the rise

By Tom Browne

JUST as the noon day bells were ringing, on the second Sunday of the New Year there was a small flock of goldfinches, radiant in their winter plumage, perched on the few apple trees now gone wild, but still known to produce good summer fruit, in the part the old orchard which had survived a road improvement scheme a few years ago.

As they flitted from branch to branch, I thought of an old man who once lived in what was considered to be a wild and lonely place on the banks of the Shannon on the perimeter of Corca Baiscinn and who would have described the birds then in the lovely collective form – a charm of goldfinches.

In that part of the region the regular language of the local people when talking about birds whether wild or domestic was to use a collective noun and I’m sure some of these descriptions were colloquial in origin. Some, at least, were very unusual such as a skull of cormorants. The visiting thrushes were described as a cape of redwings.

The area had originally been Irish speaking, way back, and some of the other collectives I remember were a mansion of jackdaws, a cheek of wrens, a murder of crows, a bevy of quail, an exultation of skylarks and a bush of robins.

Some to the collectives too were obviously borrowed from another order of wildlife such as a swarm of swans (bees), a herd of pheasants (cattle), a pack of grouse (hounds).

Maybe it’s because the goldfinch is actually such a charming wild bird that the epithet for the flock had become a charm.

Once almost extinct because of a fashion craze, they have survived a number of serious valley periods. The fashion craze at the end of the 19th century involved the ladies of high society carrying them in cages when travelling on either social visits or on holiday throughout Europe.

Maud Gonne McBride comes to mind for in that era she never travelled without her menagerie and I’ve seen a report where the goldfinch was one of her favourite birds.

Goldfinches were trapped at the time for the cage bird trade and thousands were shipped to London and Paris where the colourful little songster was in great demand. Another craze at the time was to have one’s own aviary.

The cock goldfinch cross-breeds in confined conditions with a hen canary perfectly. The result from this mating is a bird called a mule, the cock of which is regarded as a great songster.

Young birds learn to sing from other birds and there was always a preference for the mule to be “struck” by a goldfinch, so that his song would be loud with every flute, notes ending with trills and twirls.
Sometimes other bird fanciers had a preference for the canary song so the young mule would be “struck” by a canary. The colourful bullfinch, now very scarce was also trapped for breeding purposes and the mule from this canary cross, while it had no song, had extremely attractive featherings and was kept in the aviary mainly because it was very handsome.

The hen goldfinch or bullfinch, will not breed in captivity.

Although thousands of birds were trapped in the late 1880s, the species’ worst period was during the blizzards of 1962/63 when it was nearly wiped out.

Now according to bird watchers, the goldfinch is well on its way to its highest numbers ever and locally, where there were only a few birds a decade ago, there are now several flocks or as the old man would say – charms.

The reputable British Trust for Ornithology claims there was an 18% increase in the goldfinch population between 1994 and 2002 and even since then a further rise has been noted.

One of the best periods to see goldfinches in the wild is in late autumn when they take to the black tops, feeding avariciously on the seeds. It is at this time too that most birds were trapped but this practise is now banned under the 1975 Wildlife Act and over the years there have been a number of prosecutions when the trappers were caught by the wildlife rangers.


Jamie Gilardi
World Parrot Trust