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Our Backyard Birds: The American Goldfinch

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A male American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) on cone flowers
Goldfinch on Cone Flowers

Our Backyard Birds:

The American Goldfinch

(Spinus tristis)



Goldfinches survive solely on seeds for their diet. Seed-bearing flowers like sunflowers, coneflowers, and other native blooms are the most suitable natural food sources for them. Additionally, these birds will readily visit feeders that offer sunflower seed hearts or chips, as well as Nyjer seeds.


Mesh-style feeders or feeding socks are ideal for Goldfinches as they allow these agile birds to perch in various positions. Tube feeders or platform feeders also work well. Since Goldfinches tend to feed in flocks, having multiple feeders will grant more birds access to food and encourage them to stay in the area.


The American goldfinch is a small bird, but it is one of the most widespread birds in North America. These colorful birds undergo a molt in both the spring and autumn. During the summer, male goldfinches are vibrant yellow, while in the winter, they are olive-colored. Females, on the other hand, are a dull yellow-brown shade that brightens slightly during the summer. In the autumn, both males and females have almost identical plumage, but males can be identified by their yellow shoulder patches. In some winter ranges, American goldfinches lose all traces of yellow and become a predominantly medium tan-gray color with an olive tinge evident only on close viewing.


American goldfinches have a unique way of flying that is characterized by an undulating pattern that creates a wave-like path. This flight pattern involves a series of wing beats to lift the bird, followed by folding in the wings and gliding in an arc before repeating the cycle. During flight, the birds produce "per-twee-twee-twee" or "ti-di-di-di" calls, which are often interspersed with silent periods. In the non-breeding season, American goldfinches tend to be social and form large flocks, often with other finches.

A male American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) on a twig
Goldfinch in Winter

The American Goldfinch is a widespread finch and is a familiar sight throughout the year however, it is most colorful during the breeding season. It begins nesting late in the summer, much later than most North American songbirds. This is because their chief food source of seeds is most abundant during the late summer months. The Goldfinch feeds on a wide variety of seeds, buds, sap, berries, and other plants. Thistles are their favorite, but they are not choosey and will eat almost any kind of seed.

The American Goldfinch has several advantages that allow it to eat seeds. Its strong, conical beak can easily gather and split seeds and its dexterous legs and feet enable it to scramble up and down plant stems and hang from seedheads while feeding, accessing seed sources that other birds cannot. Because they begin nesting late, they usually only have one brood of four to six eggs per season. The female builds the nest; a tightly woven cup of plant fibers and spider webs lined with thistledown, in a tree or shrub, usually 15 to 17 feet high. These nests are so well-made that they can even hold water.

During the incubation period, the male feeds the female, and after the chicks hatch, the female feeds the chicks while the male continues to feed the female. As the nestlings grow, both parents feed them directly, but the male gradually takes over feeding the young birds, attending them for up to three days post-fledging.

A male American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) on a small brach
Winter Goldfinch

Human activity has helped the American Goldfinch, as deforestation creates the open, weedy areas that are its preferred habitat and chief source of seed. The species is widely featured in art and literature, and it is the state bird of Iowa, New Jersey, and Washington. Moreover, it appears in gardens not only at feeders but also on the seedheads of popular garden plants such as Purple Coneflower and Zinnia. However, even human-dominated landscapes favored by many goldfinches include a variety of threats that affect this and other birds. Risks include predation by outdoor cats, pesticide use, collisions with cars, wind turbines, and glass impacts.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the American Goldfinch and how you can attract them to your backyard. If this is your first time visiting my website or reading one of my blog posts, welcome, and thank you for joining us. Please subscribe here so you can receive updates on the next blog posts on Backyard Birding. You will also receive occasional discounts and newsletters. Remember to follow the Nature First and Leave No Trace principles and always strive to leave places better than you found them. Please share this blog post with your friends and family who have a love for birds, bird photography, or backyard birding.


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