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    American Goldfinch Life History


    Habitat Open WoodlandsWeedy 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.Back to top


    Food SeedsGoldfinches 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.Back to top


    Nest Placement

    Nest ShrubMale 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.

    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.

    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 (1.22-1.28 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.
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    Behavior Foliage GleanerAmerican 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.Back to top


    Conservation Low ConcernAmerican Goldfinch are numerous, though populations experienced a small decline between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 42 million, with 91% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 33% in Canada, and 6% wintering in Mexico. They rate a 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Back to top

    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. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the ProjectFeeder Watch's Common Feeder Birds bird list.

    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”.

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    Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

    McGraw, Kevin J. and Alex L. Middleton. 2017. American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis), version 2.1. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

    North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2014. The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

    Partners in Flight. 2017. Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

    Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center 2014b. Available from

    Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

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