Outdoors: Goldfinches

Oct 14, 2020

Antonio Vivaldi wrote the Concerto for Flute in D in 1729. This work, known as "the Goldfinch," includes a birdlike cadenza and is filled with twittering passages.

I've heard recordings of European goldfinches. Vivaldi did a bit of embellishing of the bird's trills and warbles. 

In my opinion, the name "goldfinch" for the European species is a stretch. The bird is sort of brown, with yellow and black wings.

The head is striking, though: black, white and bright red.

You've probably seen renderings of this species in Renaissance paintings. 

Raphael, Solly Madonna (ca. 1500)
Credit Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

Because it feeds on thistle seeds, the goldfinch was associated with the crown of thorns. According to legend, the red on the bird's head represented the blood of Christ.

Artists often placed a goldfinch in paintings of the Madonna and child, sort of foreshadowing the Passion.

The closely related American goldfinch also eats thistle seeds, but it really is gold, with black wings.

At least, in summer the male is gold. The female is about the same drab brown as the European goldfinch.

During September and October, goldfinches molt all of their feathers. The replacement feathers are dull in both the male and female.

The drab winter finches twitter quite a bit, but alas, the vocalizations of American goldfinches in no way replicate the golden passages in the Vivaldi flute concerto.