I peered out of my front window, scheming against the teen-sized thistle plant that towered over the hollies, when I froze. A goldfinch looking straight at me, barely one foot away.
Goldfinches are quite shy, and barrel away in the blink of an eye if you attempt to approach within a few feet of them. But this one stayed steadily on the thistle, peering at me for over a minute. I shifted to get my camera, and by the time I came back, it had vanished.
Since then I've tracked the elusive finch more than three times, pulling away vigorously at the fluff from the thistle heads gone to seed. Surely, it must be late in the season to be building nests, I thought. But no, from this site:
Flocks of goldfinches break up in July and August, when the birds form pairs and begin to nest. The male courts the female with a beautiful canary-like song. The female selects the nest site in hedge, brush, or the border of a field. The nesting location is always near a good supply of thistle. She builds a nest of woven plant fibres that is lined with thistledown or milkweed down. She will usually choose the fork of a maple or other hardwood tree, sapling or bush that is at least .3 to 10 metres (1 to 33 feet) above the ground, although some will nest in thistles closer to the ground.
That explains it. My little finch is a female, preparing her first nest of the season in one of the maples in our front yard. I've seen the occasional, fallen but beautifully constructed and lovingly lined nests, sometimes with remnants of blue shells in them. I had always thought that these were the handiwork of robins, but now I know better.
Thistles are a royal pain in the yard, but they can be sources of delight for these beautiful creatures! What a quandary I face : thistles and happy goldfinches or clean flower beds and no goldfinches! I will delay just a little bit longer before going in to take out those weeds, in hope that the goldfinch has culled enough for her nest.
(Note: The photo of the goldfinch on the thistle is from the Flickr photostream of wayne31r)