Country diary: Goldfinches one, two, three, lift up into the boughs of the pear tree

·2 min read

The free tumble of yellow and red as the goldfinches swerve in the spread of colour is infectious. Like throwing a pack of cards up and seeing the court faces fall, there is a regal brightness, and such thrall in their deft abandonment to air. These distinctive finches, with striking red, white and black heads and yellow wing bars, are uncommonly vivacious. They shimmer and swoop in rampages of energetic flight.

In his Cook’s Tale, Chaucer describes his apprentice protagonist as “lively … as goldfinch in the glade”. This liveliness has also been translated as boldness, flamboyant dress, even joy. While we may not be able to tell if these birds feel happiness, we know that goldfinches have long evoked pleasure in their human observers. Their arresting colours and song made them popular as caged birds in the 19th century, with large numbers taken from the wild to supply the demand, taking them to the brink of extinction in Britain.

finch apple blossom
‘Now the apple blossom is out, I step into the scented drip of shaking white and pink where the goldfinches have shot up from the petals.’ Photograph: Robin Fox/Alamy

While their population has now recovered significantly, more than doubling since the 1970s, this caged history makes their buoyancy seem even more celebratory. Chaucer found his goldfinch-like apprentice “full of love … as is a beehive full of honey sweet”.

Now the apple blossom is out, I step into the scented drip of shaking white and pink where the goldfinches have shot up from the petals. I am sprinkled in spring perfume as the flowers stir then settle back into the branches. High, the flashing bodies twist: one, two, three entwined as they lift up into the boughs of the pear, making a theatre of the air; it is difficult not to get swept up in the action. Theirs is an irresistible attraction, a sweeping rush of momentum that longs to take you with it.

Highly sociable, a generous spirit of raucous play follows these birds through their beaming display. Could it really be said that they are full of love? It is not our privilege to know. But their residue of sweetness runs thick and full and slow, pouring through the lengthening light, a trail of spring’s ebullient life.

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