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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

American Goldfinch

Spinus tristis ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: FRINGILLIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

American Goldfinch Photo

This handsome little finch, the state bird of New Jersey, Iowa, and Washington, is welcome and common at feeders, where it takes primarily sunflower and nyjer. Goldfinches often flock with Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls. Spring males are brilliant yellow and shiny black with a bit of white. Females and all winter birds are more dull but identifiable by their conical bill; pointed, notched tail; wingbars; and lack of streaking. During molts they look bizarrely patchy.

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Keys to identification Help

Finches
Finches
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    A small finch with a short, conical bill and a small, head, long wings, and short, notched tail.

  • Color Pattern

    Adult males in spring and early summer are bright yellow with black forehead, black wings with white markings, and white patches both above and beneath the tail. Adult females are duller yellow beneath, olive above. Winter birds are drab, unstreaked brown, with blackish wings and two pale wingbars.

  • Behavior

    These are active and acrobatic little finches that cling to weeds and seed socks, and sometimes mill about in large numbers at feeders or on the ground beneath them. Goldfinches fly with a bouncy, undulating pattern and often call in flight, drawing attention to themselves.

  • Habitat

    The goldfinch’s main natural habitats are weedy fields and floodplains, where plants such as thistles and asters are common. They’re also found in cultivated areas, roadsides, orchards, and backyards. American Goldfinches can be found at feeders any time of year, but most abundantly during winter.

Range Map Help

American Goldfinch Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male breeding

    American Goldfinch

    Adult male breeding
    • Bright yellow overall
    • Black wings with white edging
    • Black cap and forehead
    • Pinkish orange, pointed, conical bill
    • © Jason Means, Charleston, West Virginia, August 2008
  • Adult male nonbreeding

    American Goldfinch

    Adult male nonbreeding
    • Dull grayish brown underparts
    • Yellowish face
    • © Kevin Shea, January 2009
  • Adult female breeding

    American Goldfinch

    Adult female breeding
    • Dull yellow overall
    • Dark, blackish wings with pale wingbars
    • © Eye Of The Artist, Mitchell, South Dakota, July 2008
  • Adult female nonbreeding

    American Goldfinch

    Adult female nonbreeding
    • Dull grayish brown
    • Blackish-brown wings with pale wingbars
    • Dull yellowish face
    • © Ed Schneider, Whites Creek, Tennessee, November 2008
  • Adult male nonbreeding

    American Goldfinch

    Adult male nonbreeding
    • Dull grayish brown
    • Black wings with pale wingbars
    • Yellowish face
    • Transitional males show variable black on head
    • © Debbie McKenzie, Alabama, September 2008
  • Adult male nonbreeding

    American Goldfinch

    Adult male nonbreeding
    • Winter males sometimes fairly yellow overall
    • © Maggie Lee, Louisville, Kentucky, December 2008
  • Adults nonbreeding

    American Goldfinch

    Adults nonbreeding
    • May congregate in large flocks
    • © maia bird, December 2008
  • Adults transitional

    American Goldfinch

    Adults transitional
    • Transitional birds show patchy yellow
    • Transitional birds show variable black on head
    • © Mary Ann Scott, March 2008

Similar Species

  • Adult male

    Yellow Warbler

    Adult male
    • Similar to adult male American Goldfinch
    • Bright yellow overall
    • Red streaks on breast (absent in females)
    • Thin black bill
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, Manitoba, Canada, June 2007
  • Adult male

    Evening Grosbeak

    Adult male
    • Similar to adult male American Goldfinch
    • Dark head with yellow forehead and eyebrow
    • Large white wing patch
    • Very large, thick pale bill
    • © Keefee, New Mexico, May 2008
  • Adult female

    Evening Grosbeak

    Adult female
    • Similar to female or nonbreeding American Goldfinch
    • Overall gray with greenish on neck
    • Dark wings with white patches
    • Very large, thick pale bill
    • © Keefee, New Mexico, May 2008
  • Adult male

    Evening Grosbeak

    Adult male
    • Similar to adult male American Goldfinch
    • Dark head with yellow forehead and eyebrow
    • Large white wing patch
    • Very large, thick pale bill
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, Manitoba, June 2007
  • Adult male

    Lawrence's Goldfinch

    Adult male
    • Similar to female or nonbreeding American Goldfinch
    • Very gray with yellow chest and wings
    • Black face and gray cheek
    • © Jean Halford, March 2007
  • Adult with American Goldfinch

    Pine Siskin

    Adult with American Goldfinch
    • © Bob Baker, Greene Co., Virginia, December 2008
  • Adult

    Pine Siskin

    Adult
    • Similar to female or nonbreeding American Goldfinch
    • Very brown and streaky overall
    • © Bob Baker, Greene Co., Virginia, January 2009
  • Adult male

    Pine Warbler

    Adult male
    • Similar to female or nonbreeding American Goldfinch
    • Longer and more slender than finches
    • Bill darker, longer, thinner
    • © Debbie McKenzie, Alabama
  • Adult male

    Lesser Goldfinch

    Adult male
    • Similar to breeding male American Goldfinch
    • Stouter bill, yellow undertail
    • Full black cap and non-yellow back
    • © cl_cochran , Arizona, June 2008
  • Adult female

    Lesser Goldfinch

    Adult female
    • Similar to female or nonbreeding American Goldfinch
    • Stouter bill than American Goldfinch, yellowish undertail
    • Green back, narrow wing-bars
    • © Seth Reams , Portland, Oregon, July 2008
  • Adult female

    Lesser Goldfinch

    Adult female
    • Similar to female or nonbreeding American Goldfinch
    • Stouter bill than American Goldfinch.
    • Green back, narrow wing-bars
    • © Darin Ziegler , Colorado Springs , Colorado, December 2008

Similar Species

Evening Grosbeaks are about twice the size of a goldfinch, with a huge beak and large wing patches rather than wingbars. Pine Siskins have coarse brown streaks on breast and back, a more slender bill, and yellow only on a small region of the wing. Female Lesser and Lawrence's goldfinches have a solidly dark tip to the tail, whereas female American Goldfinches have white edges to the tail feathers. Lesser Goldfinches have yellow instead of white under the tail. Lawrence's Goldfinches have yellow instead of white wingbars. Many warblers are bright yellow, but they all have thinner bills and a more horizontal posture than goldfinches and are very rarely seen at bird feeders.

Backyard Tips

To encourage goldfinches into your yard, plant native thistles and other composite plants, as well as native milkweed. Almost any kind of bird feeder may attract American Goldfinches, including hopper, platform, and hanging feeders, and these birds don’t mind feeders that sway in the wind. You’ll also find American Goldfinches are happy to feed on the ground below feeders, eating spilled seeds. They’re most attracted to sunflower seed and nyjer.

To protect American Goldfinches from contagious diseases at feeders, keep the ground well-raked. For more information about keeping feeders clean, see Project FeederWatch’s “Safe Feeding Environment”.

For more information about what to do if you see a sick bird at your feeder, see Project Feeder Watch’s “Diseased Birds”.

Find This Bird

Goldfinches are usually easy to find throughout much of North America, except in deep forests. Their po-ta-to-chip flight call is draws attention to them in open country. They’re most abundant in areas with thistle plants, and near feeders.

Get Involved

Keep track of the American Goldfinches at your feeder each winter with Project FeederWatch or the Great Backyard Bird Count

Help us find out how American Goldfinch populations are doing in mid-winter by participating in the Look for American Goldfinch nests and contribute valuable data about them through NestWatch

If you spot an American Goldfinch with what appears to be an injured or diseased eye, it may be suffering from House Finch Eye Disease, a virulent form of conjunctivitis. Help us keep track of the disease’s spread by reporting it.

Have you seen American Goldfinches in summer? Learn how to find and monitor their nests for NestWatch

You Might Also Like

Striking color patterns are useful for identifying more than just goldfinches. Watch our Inside Birding video series to learn how using color patterns can make you a better birder—right from your computer.

Q & A: When Goldfinches Look Patchy

Explore more great photos of goldfinches from the All About Birds Birdshare group.

American Goldfinch from Life Histories of North American Birds (1968)