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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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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
4.3–5.1 in
11–13 cm
Wingspan
7.5–8.7 in
19–22 cm
Weight
0.4–0.7 oz
11–20 g
Relative Size
Smaller than a Tufted Titmouse
Other Names
  • Dominiquito viajero, Dominiquito triste (Spanish)
  • Chardonneret jaune (French)

Cool Facts

  • American Goldfinches are the only finch that molts its body feathers twice a year, once in late winter and again in late summer. The brightening yellow of male goldfinches each spring is one welcome mark of approaching warm months.
  • American Goldfinches breed later than most North American birds. They wait to nest until June or July when milkweed, thistle, and other plants have produced their fibrous seeds, which goldfinches incorporate into their nests and also feed their young.
  • Goldfinches are among the strictest vegetarians in the bird world, selecting an entirely vegetable diet and only inadvertently swallowing an occasional insect.
  • When Brown-headed Cowbirds lay eggs in an American Goldfinch nest, the cowbird egg may hatch but the nestling seldom survives longer than three days. The cowbird chick simply can’t survive on the all-seed diet that goldfinches feed their young.
  • Goldfinches move south in winter following a pattern that seems to coincide with regions where the minimum January temperature is no colder than 0 degrees Fahrenheit on average.
  • As of May 2007, the oldest known American Goldfinch was 10 years 5 months old.
  • Paired-up goldfinches make virtually identical flight calls; goldfinches may be able to distinguish members of various pairs by these calls.

Habitat


Open Woodland

Weedy fields, open floodplains, and other overgrown areas, particularly with sunflower, aster, and thistle plants for food and some shrubs and trees for nesting. Goldfinches are also common in suburbs, parks, and backyards.

Food


Seeds

Goldfinches eat seeds almost exclusively. Main types include seeds from composite plants (in the family Asteraceae: sunflowers, thistle, asters, etc.), grasses, and trees such as alder, birch, western red cedar, and elm. At feeders prefers nyjer and sunflower.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2–7 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
0.6–0.7 in
1.62–1.69 cm
Egg Width
0.5–0.5 in
1.2–1.3 cm
Incubation Period
12–14 days
Nestling Period
11–17 days
Egg Description
Pale bluish white, sometimes with small faint brown spots around large end.
Condition at Hatching
Helpless, with wisps of grayish down.
Nest Description

The nest is an open cup of rootlets and plant fibers lined with plant down, often woven so tightly that it can hold water. The female lashes the foundation to supporting branches using spider silk, and makes a downy lining often using the fluffy “pappus” material taken from the same types of seedheads that goldfinches so commonly feed on. It takes the female about 6 days to build the nest. The finished nest is about 3 inches across on the outside and 2-4.5 inches high.

Nest Placement

Shrub

Male and female move around together to choose a suitable nest site. The female builds the nest, usually in a shrub or sapling in a fairly open setting rather than in forest interior. The nest is often built high in a shrub, where two or three vertical branches join; usually shaded by clusters of leaves or needles from above, but often open and visible from below.

American Goldfinch Nest Image 1
© René Corado / WFVZ

American Goldfinch Nest Image 2
© René Corado / WFVZ

Behavior


Foliage Gleaner

American Goldfinches are active, acrobatic finches that balance on the seedheads of thistles, dandelions, and other plants to pluck seeds. They have a bouncy flight during which they frequently make their po-ta-to-chip calls. Although males sing exuberantly during spring, pairs do not nest until mid-summer, when thistles and other weeds have gone to seed. Goldfinches do not join other songbirds mobbing predators.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

American Goldfinches are numerous and their populations have been stable from1966 to 2010 according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 42 million, with 57 percent breeding in Canada, 71 percent spending some part of the year in the U.S., and 5 percent wintering in Mexico. They rate a 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2012 Watch List.

Credits

Range Map Help

American Goldfinch Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Short distance migrant.

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)