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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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Songs

Males sing a long and variable series of twitters and warbles that can be several seconds long. The notes and phrases are variable and repeated in a seemingly random order. Birds continue to learn song patterns throughout life.

Calls

The American Goldfinch’s most common call is its contact call, often given in flight. It sounds like the bird is quietly saying po-ta-to-chip with a very even cadence. Birds sometimes give harsh threat calls when in feeding flocks or at the nest. Males make a tee-yee courtship call upon landing near a female in spring or early summer, often followed by a burst of song. Females brooding nestlings make a rapid sequence of high notes when they hear their mate approaching with food. Birds at their nest make a loud, two-parted bay-bee call if they feel threatened.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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)