A Question of Identity

As I walked along the path heading towards Catch the Wind, I noticed small pieces of what looked like bark or some other flaky plant material falling down around me, there must be a bird somewhere up there pecking away at something in the treesThere was. Some forty feet directly above me, a loose flock of small birds was in the outer branches of a large tree, busily consuming the seeds of the tree.


Can you identify the tree? the bird?


The tree should be fairly easy to ID once I tell you that it’s a native North Carolina tree and that there are two trees in our area that have seed balls on them at this time of year (February). One has strongly spiked seed balls, the other has hard (in winter), fairly smooth seed balls. The seed balls of both are about 1″ – 1 1/4″ in diameter. Although planted elsewhere, the tree is happiest near water. And, oh yeah, it has peeling bark and the upper trunk and larger branches are mostly white.

The bird is, obviously, a seed eater. They eat various seeds but can be attracted to feeders using either sunflower or nyjer. Quite easy to identify when the males are decked out in the yellow, black, and white of their breeding plumage, they fade into the background during winter. The females are rather dull in appearance during any season (the birds in the pictures look to be females). The notched tail may help with the identification.

These close-ups may be of further assistance.


You can see one of the seeds falling to earth in the photo below.


You’ll notice no streaks or spots on the belly or breast of the birds, and there’s a yellow cast to the head and flanks. The bird shares part of its name with the tree. It’s the state bird of New Jersey, Iowa, and Washington.

If you guessed American sycamore for the tree, you’d be correct. As for the bird, I know of no birds with sycamore as part of their name. There are about 19 species of bird in North America with American as part of their name. Only four of those would likely be seen high up in a tree in piedmont North Carolina. Cut that number to three if you consider the time of year, winter. Those three are, American crow, American goldfinch, and American robin. Which do you think it is?

Remember, I mentioned above that it was a small granivorous bird.

You’re right! American goldfinch!!

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