Hidden treasures

Goldfinches are among the strictest vegetarians in the bird world, selecting an entirely vegetable diet and only inadvertently swallowing an occasional insect.” (says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology — about the diet of the American Goldfinch.)  In fact, (the Cornell website suggests), cowbird chicks that hatch in a Goldfinch nest often starve presumably because they can’t digest the highly vegetable diet the parents bring to their own young.

I often observe Goldfinches foraging in the flowers of the Cup Plant, which form a 7-8 foot tall border on one side of my wildflower garden.  I always assumed they were harvesting seeds from the spent flower heads, but that was definitely not the case for one Goldfinch that I watched.

goldfinch foraging on cup plant

A male American Goldfinch spent many minutes probing the bases of unopened flower heads in the Cup Plants.

goldfinch foraging on cup plant

The bird examined the base of the unopened flowers closely.

goldfinch foraging on cup plant

Sometimes I could see tiny spiders or ants crawling around, perhaps trying to avoid being ingested by the bird.  It sure looks like this bird is about to ingest one.

goldfinch foraging on cup plant

The bird went to great lengths to check out those unopened flowers.

goldfinch foraging on cup plant

All this attention to this particular place on the flowering stem must mean there were some hidden treasures there.

So I pulled apart a few of those flower heads myself, and discovered a treasure trove of insect material.  Ants, spiders, tiny mites, and…a web of plant material covering a 1/2 inch long larva right at the base of the unopened flowers.  This might be unusual behavior for a Goldfinch to harvest insects in this way, but it would certainly be beneficial to provide a little animal protein for their rapidly growing offspring.  Perhaps, the “inadvertent swallowing of insects” isn’t really so inadvertent as was once assumed.

8 thoughts on “Hidden treasures

    • I agree — and that’s what made me look more closely at those flowers. I could tell they weren’t getting seeds from those unopened buds, so it had to be something else.

  1. Interesting! I enjoy watching the little goldfinches twirling around and singing while eating what I presumed were seeds. I’ll have to look a little closer at my flowers too.

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