During one of our more recent snow storms, and we have had many this year, I was able to watch and photograph the lesser goldfinch feeding on the ground. This is a behavior I had not really seen before. I have always thought of them as birds which feed on branches, stems and other sources of food above ground. I have always had their cousins the american goldfinch around and have rarely seen them take to the ground so I was surprised to see the lesser goldfinch in great numbers feed from the ground, sharing a meal with many dark eyed juncos, sparrows and other typical ground feeding birds.
I have a new spot for birds and now I rarely see the american goldfinch. Occasionally one will come to the feeder but the lesser goldfinch is now my most common visitor and bird at the feeders. I get chickadees and other birds but not in the numbers as I do with the lesser goldfinch. This is very prevalent on snowy days where the feeder gets drained in a few short hours by a hungry flock of lesser goldfinches.
This great numbers of birds at the feeder has forced some to take to the ground, literally, in search for food. There is a constant squabble over who gets to sit on which perch at the feeder but many have decided, it seems, to leave the confrontations to the more aggressive birds and feed on spilled seeds under the feeder. In fact, many birds now don’t even try for a spot at the feeder and head right for the ground where a large pile of thistle seed awaits them.
I used to get frustrated over spilled food at the feeders. I figured it was wasted food but I was wrong with this assumption. Many birds will scavenge for food under and near the feeders, picking up what other birds toss aside. I have noticed the chickadee, in fact, can be very selective on its choice of seed and will toss quite a bit of food to the ground, helping many types of ground feeding birds such as the white crowned sparrow and the spotted towhee, for example.
Winter can be a hard time for birds and I always try and keep the feeders full. I don’t worry now about spilled food as many birds will find their way below the feeder for a quick and easy meal. I am not sure how often the lesser goldfinch feeds from the ground in more suitable conditions but it is nice to see they can manage to find food even when the feeder is at full capacity during these harsh winter storms we have been getting this year.