The American Goldfinch is one of nature’s most colorful and striking songbirds, and in our previous post was listed as one of our Top Five Favorite Birds to Watch. It is the only finch that molts its feathers twice a year, once in late winter and again in late summer. The brightening yellow of the male goldfinch is a harbinger of warm weather.
The American Goldfinch belongs to the largest family of birds (Fringillidea), a family that includes the towhees, grosbeaks, buntings, native sparrows, cardinals and other finches. All of them have stout conical bills; they are primarily seed-eaters, so the bill helps crack the seeds. Goldfinches are among the strictest vegetarians in the bird world, selecting an entirely vegetable diet. When Brown-headed Cowbirds lay an egg in an American Goldfinch nest, the cowbird chick seldom survives longer than a few days. The cowbird chick simply can’t survive on the all-seed diet that goldfinches feed their young.
American Goldfinches breed later than most North American birds, breeding from central Canada southward to northern Nevada, Oklahoma, and central Georgia. They wait to nest until June or July, sometimes into mid-August, when milkweed, thistle, and other plants have produced their fibrous seeds, which goldfinches use when making their nests and use to feed their young. The nest is an open cup of 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 lining often using the fluffy material taken from seed-heads 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 to 4 ½” high. Females lay 2 to 7 eggs, which they keep warm for 15 days until they hatch. While females are sitting on the nest, males bring them undigested food. After the chicks are born, males take on the responsibility for looking after the chicks. Females chase intruders away from the nest, forage for food, and return to feed the chicks through spitting up undigested food. After 8 days, chicks are able to be independent, but stay close to their parents. They can fly in about 14 days. Even after they leave the nest, they rely on their parents for 3 to 4 more weeks. When they are 11 months old, they are able to breed and raise their own young.
A Goldfinch is 4 to 5″ in length, has a wingspan of 7 to 9”, weighs about one-half ounce, has a small conical and pinkish bill, with a short tail that is notched. The male is bright yellow (in spring) with a black cap and wings of black with white stripes. The female is a more muted color of green. Their flight is a bouncy flight. They call frequently while in flight; some say the call resembles “po-ta-to-chip” or “per-chic-o-ree”. Paired-up goldfinches make virtually identical flight calls; goldfinches may be able to distinguish members of various pairs by these calls. An American Goldfinch has an average lifespan of 7 to 10 years.
Goldfinches move south in winter to regions where the minimum January temperature is no colder than 0 degrees Fahrenheit on average. They winter from the Canadian border to southern United States and into northern Mexico.
How to attract the Goldfinch:
- Goldfinch’s loves thistle (Nyjer) seed, so providing a reliable thistle feeder will encourage them to come to your yard. Since finches like to move in flocks, provide a feeder with several ports to accommodate larger groups.
- Keep the seed very fresh. Always empty that last bit of seed at the bottom that never seems to get eaten. Do not pour new seed on top of the left over seed but mix this remaining seed with the new seed.
- Mix the seed in your seed bucket or in the seed bag not in your feeder.
- If you experience a larger flock than you expect, purchase a thistle sock to help with the rush hour traffic. They are inexpensive and can accommodate many finches. The downside is it is not long before the mesh is stretched by the birds and the seed begins to fall to the ground. Thistle is too expensive to waste in this fashion.