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Could you tell me of any superstitions or English folklore associated with goldfinches please?

Sent in by Steven Croft, Yorkshire

In the Anglo-Saxon times, Goldfinches were known as Thisteltuige or Thistle-tweaker, due to their fondness of thistles, teasels and knapweeds. Their long fine beaks allow them to extract otherwise inaccessible seeds from thistles and teasels. The Latin for thistle is Caduus and today forms part of the scientific name for a genus of thistle that includes musk thistle. Their modern name comes from the old English Goldfinc. The stripe of yellow on the wing is apparent even when the birds are flying.

The collective noun for a group of goldfinches is a charm, which comes from the Middle English charme and the Latin Carmen, meaning a magic song or spell. This alludes to their conversational twittering which is a blended sound like many voices.

Towards the end of his life the poet John Keats wrote of the beauty of goldfinches in his poem ‘I stood tip-toe upon a Little Hill’.

“Sometimes goldfinches one by one will drop
From low hung branches; little space they stop;
But sip, and twitter, and their feathers sleek;
Then off at once, as in a wanton freak:
Or perhaps, to show their black, and golden wings,
Pausing upon their yellow flutterings.
Were I in such a place, I sure should pray
That nought less sweet, might call my thoughts away.”

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