The American Goldfinch is a common year-round resident in East Brunswick. Goldfinches visit bird feeders filled with sunflower seeds, but are particularly fond of feeders filled with Nyjer thistle seed. In the winter (and females at any season), goldfinches are a drab olive-yellow with distinct black wings featuring a bright white stripe. In the summer, the dull yellowish colors are transformed into a stunning bright yellow giving the bird its common name. Goldfinches can also be easily identified by their songs and by their distinctive "roller-coaster" like flight. The song is often given in flight and commonly gives away their presence long before they are seen. They also call from the tops of trees where despite their bright color, the calls give away their location. Interestingly, goldfinches are also one of the latest birds to breed in New Jersey, sometimes waiting until August to initiate nesting.
I've referenced the great New Jersey ornithologist, Dr. Leon Augustus Hausman for other species because his series on New Jersey birds is excellent and I love the way he desc"ribes various life history attributes of the birds. His description of the goldfinch in The Buntings, Finches and Their Allies of New Jersey (NJ Agricultural Experiment Station, 1936)" is no exception: "Goldfinches fly with a bouncing or undulating flight, folding their wings and dropping regularly, then turning upwards, and at each dip call in a clear sweet tone, "te tee' dee dee". The call is not invariably given in flight but is often heard in the tree tops when the birds are at rest. It is in tree tops that troops of goldfinches love to gather, where they often fill the air with a medley of sweet, varied notes, canary-like in character, with a distinctly plaintive quality, the upward slurred syllables "swee swee" being frequently introduced." To me, the call always sounds like "Perchikorree, Perchikorree, Perchikorree." The songs and calls also give the goldfinch its other common name, the "wild canary."
The goldfinch is almost always noted in the older ornithological literature as having a wonderful disposition, of being "happy," "merry," "cheerful." Of course, anthropomorphizing wildlife is never a good idea, but it does seem like a happy bird. In 1935, Roger Tory Peterson, the greatest ornithologist of modern times, said "The responsibilities of life seem to rest lightly on the Goldfinch's sunny shoulders."
I suspect that most every elementary school child in New Jersey knows that the beautiful goldfinch is our State bird. I think I learned it in my first years in school. What I didn't know is that no one is sure why it was chosen. While doing some research for this article, I found the original legislation naming the goldfinch the New Jersey State Bird and an interesting commentary by the New Jersey State Librarian on the history behind the legislation. Robert Lupp, Supervising Librarian, New Jersey Publications, State Library noted "New Jersey adopted the goldfinch on June 27, 1935. And that's about all anyone knows about New Jersey's state bird! Unfortunately, no information is available as to why the eastern goldfinch was chosen New Jersey's state bird. Neither the original bill nor the legislative journals (which do not record debate) provide a clue.”
If I had to guess why the goldfinch was chosen as our State bird, I suspect it had to do with the largely agricultural nature of New Jersey in the 1930's. At that time, before modern agricultural techniques were used, New Jersey was a patchwork of small family farms. Fallow fields were rotated with active farming to allow the soil to rest. Weedy pastures and fields and abandoned farms were likely abundant too. These are all the haunts of the goldfinch. It was probably very abundant and one of the most easily recognizable and distinctive birds around. So why not choose it?
Here is the enabling legislation:
The Eastern Goldfinch is the New Jersey state bird, having been so declared by Senate, No . 241.
SENATE, No. 241
STATE OF NEW JERSEY
Introduced January 29, 1935
By Mr. KUSER
Referred to Committee on Miscellaneous Business
An Act to create a New Jersey State Bird
BE IT ENACTED by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of
1. The Eastern Goldfinch is hereby designated as the New Jersey
2. This act shall take effect immediately.
The purpose of this act is to create a State bird. Forty-four
of the States have already designated State birds.
See also Chapter 283, Laws of 1935.
Older field guides and references call the goldfinch the Eastern goldfinch, but it is the same bird as the American goldfinch.
Goldfinches can be found in many of our parks and neighborhoods. Learn their easy to recognize calls and songs and use the Friends Online Guide to East Brunswick Parks to find some places to look and listen for them. The Guide is available at: http://www.friendsebec.com/ebparks.htm. For more information about goldfinches visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/american_goldfinch/id/ac.