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FROM THE ARCHIVES: Going Wild With Natives And Going For The Gold

By Pat Pawlowski, September 2021. First published in Let's Talk Plants! September 2016, No. 264.

Male lesser goldfinch. Carduelis psaltria. Photo: Matt Knoth, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Besides beauty, gold is in the eye of the beholder. There are all kinds of gold. The solid gold metal ingot type is, of course, desired by many of us who may never get the chance to clasp its golden heavy brilliance to our chests. However, there are other kinds of gold that are very desirable too. The kinds of gold that come to my mind will not pay for a first-class ticket to Paris, but they can make your heart beat a little faster and give you lots of pleasure.

Here is one of my favorite kinds of gold:

Lesser Goldfinches. They are diminutive, light-golden-colored birds with accents of black, and which, under the right conditions, perform acrobatic effusions such as hanging upside down, sideways, or any else-ways as they eat. They are charming to watch. And they’ll provide their own musical accompaniment, too. To quote from The Birds of San Diego by Fisher and Clarke:

“It seems as though no two birds sing the exact same complicated song... It is thought that female Lesser Goldfinches are attracted by the males’ songs rather than their dressy style.”


The authors explain further,

“First year males, still without the contrasting plumage of the mature males, are often just as successful as their older peers in finding mates.”

If finding Lessers in your yard appeals to you, matey, here is what to do:

First of all, offer water. They seem to enjoy splashing around in bodies of water, such as a birdbath. You will, of course, forgo using the glitzy, glassy, slippery kind of birdbath and choose instead a bath with a rough-textured, birdfoot-friendly texture. Remember, it’s for the birds, not you.

Milkweed seed, Asclepias spec.

Massachusetts, USA. Harry Alverson. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0.

Eriophyllum confertiflorum Golden Yarrow.

Photo from near San Diego by Dick Culbert, Canada. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Next, give them a decent meal; I’m saying, “Seeds, baby!”

You, the chef, will provide seeds either in a netlike sack to hold store-bought niger seeds, or grow plants that bear many small seeds. Here is a partial list of the many plants whose seeds Lessers love: Golden - of course - Yarrow, Eriophyllum confertiflorum, Goldenrod, Solidago sp., Chamise, Adenostoma fasciculatum, Aster, Aster sp., Milkweed, Asclepias sp., Saltbush, Atriplex lentiformis, and Chia, Salvia columbariae. All of these are great plants to grow anyway.

Naturally, you will forgo using herbicides and pesticides. Would you want any of that stuff on your pizza?

Finally, go native and attend the indigenous plant sales that come up from time to time.

After you enjoy seeing Lessers hanging around, and I do mean hanging, you may wonder... What makes them “lesser?”

It’s probably because they are lesser in size than their cousin, the American Goldfinch. However, we all know that the best things come in small (feathery) packages.


Member Pat Pawlowski is a writer/lecturer/garden consultant who is not really as good as gold, but sometimes comes closer to it than you might think.


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