American Goldfinch: Bird Identification, Habits, Facts, Nesting

February 15, 2021 // 8 minute read

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American Goldfinch: Bird Identification, Habits, Facts, Nesting

American Goldfinch on Perch
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photo credit: Miles Moody from Pixabay

American Goldfinches are one of the most common birds found throughout the US. They are also one of the easiest to attract in your open backyard. As they are granivores, they mainly eat seeds, with thistle being the favorite. Males typically come brighter yellow than females, but both are pale when winter comes.

In this article, we are going to cover a wide variety of topics related to the American Goldfinch, such as:

  • How to identify them
  • How, when, and where they migrate
  • Their diet
  • How and where they nest
  • And much more…

So, without any more delay…

Let’s jump right into it and learn more about the American Goldfinch.

[sc name=”bird_facts” common_name=”American Goldfinch” scientific_name=”Spinus tristis” scientific_family=”Fringillidae” lifespan=”3-6 years” size=”4.3 to 5.1 inches” wingspan=”7.5 to 8.7 inches” weight=”0.4 to 0.7 oz.” conservation_status=”Least Concern” ]

How To Identify An American Goldfinch

American Goldfinches can be easily identified from their short but a sharp orange bill, small head, long wings, and a tail with a shallow notched. Identifying these birds in different seasons can be quite challenging with their different plumages, which will be better explained below.

Differences Between Male & Female

An adult male American Goldfinch wears a bright yellow plumage on his body, back, and face. There’s a black cap on his head, and his bill comes in bright orange color. The long wings are colored black with a white bar, and his tail is black with a white undertail and rump patch.

An adult female American Goldfinch has almost the same appearance as the male but comes in a much paler color. Their body color can range from grayish-white to a brighter yellow, and the throat area does not come with that bright yellow color. They are also missing a black cap but have an olive-wash on the back.

American Goldfinch
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photo credit: Luciani K. on Unsplash

Differences In Summer Plumage vs Winter Plumage

Male and female American Goldfinches are harder to identify in winter when their plumages are almost the same.

You’ll notice that the head part comes in a warm tan color, and their orange bill has turned dark gray or black. The throat area doesn’t have that visible bright yellow color, their black wings are lighter and still come with a wing bar, and their legs are pale.

Overall, American Goldfinches have duller plumages in winter, which contrasts with their summer plumage.

American Goldfinch in Fall
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photo credit: Shannon Kunkle on Unsplash

American Goldfinch Sounds

[sc name=”video” video_id=”gwiVHE0dei8″ ]

Where You’ll See American Goldfinch

American Goldfinches are birds you’ll commonly see throughout the US. You’ll also find many of them in Southern Canada. They love breeding in various habitats, such as patches of thistles and weeds. You won’t find them in deep forests, but they love being out in open areas such as your backyard.

American Goldfinch Migration Patterns

American Goldfinches are short-distance migratory birds, which means they mostly stay within the US and Canada. They would migrate north or south, depending on where the food supply is greater.

When spring starts, you’ll see American Goldfinches’ flocks from the south migrate to the northern breeding grounds. After breeding and fall comes, they start flying back to the south again.

Non-breeding American Goldfinches are already considered residents of the south, so they don’t migrate to the north when winter comes.

Diet and Feeding Preferences

American Goldfinches are considered to be granivores, meaning they mainly eat seeds from plants. Because of this, they find themselves having a supply of food throughout the year. Among their favorite seeds would include thistles, dandelions, grey birches, sunflowers, alders, ragweeds, cosmos, goatsbeard, mulleins, and evening primroses.

However, while nesting, the American Goldfinches eat insects, particularly the young birds, as it serves as protein. These insects would include plant lice and caterpillars. They can also eat berries too.

If you find an American Goldfinch eating, you’ll surely be amazed by how they eat. You’d see them upside down from seedheads, which can be very challenging for other species.

American Goldfinches generally wait until it’s June or July before they begin nesting. This is the season when thistles, milkweeds, and other plants have already produced their fibrous seeds, which they use for building their nests.

Both the male and female American Goldfinches fly around to choose the best location for their nest. Usually, this would be in a shrub located in an open area.

The female is the one who builds the nest, and it involves three stages. The first stage would be making the foundation by using twigs connected by spider silk, forming an open cup. The second stage would be to build a smaller but tighter cup right on top of that foundation. And the final step would be setting a soft material to the nest’s lining to support the eggs.

These birds are known to be vegetarians, so they feed their young with mostly seeds. However, they also give insects occasionally as it provides protein.

[sc name=”nest_facts” clutch_size=”2-7 eggs” number_of_broods=”1-2 broods” incubation_period=”12-14 days” nestling_period=”11-17 days” egg_description=”Bluish white with small light brown spots” ]

Nesting

American Goldfinches generally wait until it’s June or July before they begin nesting. This is the season when thistles, milkweeds, and other plants have already produced their fibrous seeds, which they use for building their nests.

Both the male and female American Goldfinches fly around to choose the best location for their nest. Usually, this would be in a shrub located in an open area.

The female is the one who builds the nest, and it involves three stages. The first stage would be making the foundation by using twigs connected by spider silk, forming an open cup. The second stage would be to build a smaller but tighter cup right on top of that foundation. And the final step would be setting a soft material to the nest’s lining to support the eggs.

These birds are known to be vegetarians, so they feed their young with mostly seeds. However, they also give insects occasionally as it provides protein.

American Goldfinch Behavior

American Goldfinches are diurnal birds, which means that they’re most active during the daytime. At the same time, they are social with other American Goldfinches and are often seen in flocks or foraging in small groups.

They are also acrobatic and are often seen hopping or balancing on plants. When they fly, you’ll observe a wavelike pattern due to their frequent rising and falling. This is possible by flapping their wings a few times to rise, and then they’ll close their wings to fall.

When they are gathered in groups, you’ll observe them imitating the calls of their kind. It’s also the males that sing loudly during these times.

Another thing to note is that these birds are nomadic and won’t spend extended periods in one place.

Tips for Birdwatchers On How To Attract American Goldfinch

As already mentioned above, American Goldfinches are commonly seen all over the US and southern Canada. So, attracting these birds in your backyard is fairly easy as all you’ll need is a feeder and their favorite food.

American Goldfinches love thistle or nyjer seeds. These are their favorite. You can simply place the seeds in a bird feeder and hang the feeder on a tree in your backyard to witness the birds fly in. But to make it more effective, putting something yellow on the feeder, like a ribbon, for example, will attract the birds more.

If you want to attract American Goldfinches continuously, you can also touch-up your backyard. Plant some of their favorite seed plants like the cosmos, thistles, sunflowers, and more.

Place some bird baths around the backyard, too. The better you can provide for them, the more frequently they’ll come back.

Fun & Interesting Facts

  • American Goldfinches are the only finches in their family that can molt and grow new feathers twice in one year.
  • Their flight call resembles “po-ta-to-chip.”
  • They are considered vegetarians and eat mostly seeds.
  • They are acrobatic birds.
  • Female American Goldfinches fly in a zigzag motion while being chased by a male during courtship.
  • The American Goldfinch is the state bird of New Jersey, Iowa, and Washington.

Explore More Species in This Family

  • Evening Grosbeak
  • Pine Grosbeak
  • Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
  • Black Rosy-Finch
  • Brown-capped Rosy Finch
  • House Finch
  • Purple Finch
  • Cassin’s Finch
  • Common Redpoll
  • Hoary Redpoll
  • Red Crossbill
  • Cassia Crossbill
  • White-winged Crossbill
  • Pine Siskin
  • Lesser Goldfinch
  • Lawrence Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
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