American Ornithology: Volume 1.

YELLOW BIRD, OR GOLDFINCH. (Fringilla tristis.)

The great resemblance which the yellow bird bears to the canary has made many persons attempt to pair individuals of the two species together. An ingenious French gentleman, who resides in Pottsgrove, Pennsylvania, assured me that he had tried the male yellow bird with the female canary, and the female yellow bird with the male canary, but without effect, though he kept them for several years together, and supplied them with proper materials for building. Mr Hassey of New York, however, who keeps a great number of native as well as foreign birds, informed me that a yellow bird paired with a canary in his possession, and laid eggs, but did not hatch, which he attributed to the lateness of the season.

These birds were seen by Mr M‘Kenzie, in his route across the continent of North America, as far north as lat. 54°; they are numerous in all the Atlantic States north of the Carolinas; abound in Mexico, and are also found in great numbers in the savannahs of Guiana. The seeds of the lettuce, thistle, hemp, &c., are their favourite food, and it is pleasant to observe a few of thena at work in a calm day, detaching the thistle down, in search of the seeds, making it fly in clouds around them. The figure on the plate represents this bird of its natural size.

The American goldfinch has been figured and described by Mr Catesby[11], who says, that the back part of the head is a dirty green, &c. This description must have been taken while the bird was changing its plumage. At the approach of fall, not only the rich yellow fades into a brown olive, but the spot of black on the crown and forehead becomes also of the same olive tint. Mr Edwards has also erred in saying, that the young male bird has the spot of black on the fore-head; this it does not receive until the succeeding spring.[12] The figure in Edwards is considerably too large; and that by Catesby has the wings and tail much longer than in nature, and the body too slender—very different from the true form of the living bird. Mr Pennant also tells up that the legs of this species are black; they are, however, of a bright cinnamon colour; but the worthy naturalist, no doubt, described them as he found them in the dried and stuffed skin, shrivelled up and blackened with decay; and thus too much of our natural history has been delineated.

[11] Nat. Hist. Car., vol. i. p. 43. [return]

[12] These changes take place in the common siskin of this country: indeed, changes, and, in many cases, similar to those alluded to, are common, according to season, among all our Fringillidæ; the common chaffinch loses the pale gray of his forehead, which becomes deep bluish purple; the head and back of the brambling, or mountain finch, becomes a deep glossy black; and the forehead and breasts of the different linnets, from a russet brown, assume a rich and beautiful crimson. They are chiefly produced by the falling off of the ends of the plumules of eath feather, which before concealed the richer tints of its lower parts; at other times, by the entire change of colour. The tint itself, however, is always much increased in beauty and gloss as the season for its display advances; at its termination the general moult commences, when the feathers are replaced with their new elongated tips, of a more sombre hue, which, no doubt, adds to the heat of the winter clothing, and remain until warmer weather and desires promote their dispersion.—Ed. [return]