Twenty minutes of observing air-borne visitors to a patch of roadside Chicory revealed nine different species of pollinators, including bees, flies and beetles. Most of the insects were bees, which makes sense, as honeybees, leafcutting bees and ground-nesting bees are the primary pollinators of this flower. Without exception, all of the pollinating insects were covered from head to toe with Chicory’s white pollen grains. As they circled the flowers’ stamens collecting pollen, the insects’ bodies were inadvertently dusted with some of it. Thanks to these diligent pollen-collectors and transporters, American Goldfinches and other seed-eating birds will be feeding on Chicory seeds come winter. (Electron microscopy by Igor Siwanowic and Scienceworks.)
Like the majority of songbirds, American goldfinches use their nest only once — to raise one brood — and do not return to it after their young have fledged. This time of year, when leaves have fallen off of shrubs and trees, is a great time to try and locate where birds you saw all summer nested. Just as each species of bird has its own song, each species of bird builds a nest unlike those of other species. By noting the habitat in which it’s built, the material with which it was built, and the dimensions of a nest, it is often possible to determine the species of bird that constructed it. Female American goldfinches build a very neat nest composed of plant fibers, and line it with the down of cattails or thistles. The walls are quite thick, making it quite durable – the nest in the photograph even withstood the wind and rain that Irene delivered this fall. While it’s fun to hunt for nests, bear in mind that you need a federal permit to collect them.
American goldfinches are late nesters – it is not uncommon for them to be raising young in August, and occasionally even into September. Recently while walking through a wet meadow, I became aware of a sudden burst of activity to my right. Unbeknownst to me, I had come quite close to an American goldfinch nest which was full of nestlings on the brink of fledging. As I passed by, the young burst explosively from their nest. Two fluttered to the ground and quickly sought cover, one flew a short distance into some shrubs, and one remained in the nest. Regardless of where they sought shelter, the young will be fed and cared for by their parents for the next three weeks or so.