Be Your Own Birder

Discover the American Goldfinch

We all need a bit of gold in our lives – not always the financial, spendable kind, but the sunny bright happy color of gold, the luxury of gold, and the cheerfulness and fun a golden opportunity, pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or a heart of gold may bring. Whether you plan to go for the gold, are worth your weight in gold, or hope to follow a gold standard, there’s no better bird for it than the American goldfinch!

American Goldfinch - Breeding Male - Photo by Sandy Hill :-)
American Goldfinch – Breeding Male – Photo by Sandy Hill

American Goldfinch Fun Facts

  • The American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) is also known as the willow goldfinch, eastern goldfinch, salad bird, thistle bird, and wild canary.
  • These are one of the very few birds with an almost completely plant-based, vegan diet. These birds rarely eat any insects (and typically only accidentally), and even delay breeding until late summer when more plant foods and seeds are available to nourish their nestlings. In addition to seeds, they will eat buds, sap, and berries.
  • While brown-headed cowbirds will lay eggs in American goldfinch nests, the hatchlings do not typically survive because the goldfinch’s plant-based diet does not provide adequate nutrition for a young cowbird’s growth.
  • The American goldfinch is the official state bird in three states – Iowa, New Jersey, and Washington – having been designated as official state symbols in 1933, 1935, and 1951, respectively.
  • These are the only cardeuline finches that molt twice per year – once in late winter or early spring, and again in late summer or early fall. Molting is particularly noticeable on males, as they switch between their bright lemon yellow breeding colors and duller, olive yellow non-mating colors. Females have the same duller, camouflaged plumage in both seasons, but their bills change from dark in the winter to pale pinkish-peach in the summer.
  • Female American goldfinches do all the nest construction, using different plant fibers, weeds, plant down, and spider webs. Males may help gather some nesting materials, but the female gathers more. The nest is so compact and well built that it may hold water.
  • American goldfinches are very social and can gather in great flocks, particularly in winter. A flock of goldfinches may be called a charm, treasury, vein, rush, or trembling.
  • Because of their beautiful plumage, lovely songs, and hearty appetites for weed seeds, American goldfinches were introduced to Bermuda in the 1800s and Tahiti in 1938, but neither introduction was successful.
American Goldfinch - Breeding Female - Photo by NPS/N. Lewis
American Goldfinch – Breeding Female – Photo by NPS/N. Lewis

Add the American Goldfinch to Your Life List

These birds aren’t difficult to find within their range, and the males’ bright plumage is easy to see and recognize. Watch for these birds in weedy, flowering fields and meadows, especially where plant down is abundant and seeds are ripe. They will also readily come to seed feeders offering sunflower hearts or Nyjer seed, and may occasionally even sip at nectar feeders with sturdy perches. They most easily come to feeders in winter when other seeds may be buried under snow, and they will easily flock with other finches including redpolls and siskins.

Learn More About the American Goldfinch

Win a gold medal in American goldfinch knowledge with these resources…

Molting Male American Goldfinch - Photo by malibuskiboats
Molting Male American Goldfinch – Photo by malibuskiboats

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