American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch
Photo: Inge Curtis

Not hard to imagine a common ancestor of American and European goldfinches managed to make the hazardous passage across the Atlantic to found a colony on the other side that evolved different colors over time. A single member of the European species was recorded here in 1999, although possibly released or escaped from captivity.

They are common, with similar habits and belong to the same genus. But of the pair the American deserves the name as breeding males are cloaked in canary yellow and sooty black, whereas Europeans have only a yellow flash on the wings. Both delight the eyes, twittering with apparent joy as they pluck seeds from flower heads, deserving the collective noun, a charm of goldfinches.

American Robin

American Robin
Photo: Inge Curtis

Early colonists in North America who felt homesick called some of the birds they saw by the names of those they grew up with 3,000 miles away—blackbirds, goldfinches, robins, et cetera—although not necessarily related and have different habits and songs.

Take, for example, the American Robin. It belongs to the thrush family whereas robins across the Pond are insectivores, more closely related to the nightingale (both formerly classified as thrushes). It’s a bigger bird than the European and has an orange breast instead of red (hence in Germany Rotkehlchen, France rouge-gorge, and Britain robin redbreast). Both are fairly trusting of humans and abundant in gardens and parks. In Britain, the robin became associated with Christmas, often featuring on greeting cards (see Christmas Birds in Archive for December 2013).