Goldfinches are found across North America. The three species include the American, Lesser and Lawrence’s Goldfinch.
Goldfinches are sometimes referred to as wild canaries. They are actually in the finch family as their name suggests.
Northern populations of the American Goldfinch are mostly migratory and southern populations are mostly residential.
Banding studies have revealed that some American Goldfinch in Ontario migrate more than a 1,000 miles to Louisiana.
Female American Goldfinch will stay further south during the winter than males and younger males will winter further north than adult males.
American Goldfinch rarely over-winter in northern areas where temperatures fall below 0°F for extended periods.
Residential flocks of American Goldfinch roam widely between food supplies during the winter and have been recorded moving over 4 miles between multiple feeding stations in a single day. Other records show movements of over 30 miles in a single winter.
American Goldfinch have an interesting flight call consisting of four syllables that can be likened to “po-ta-to-chip.”
The genus name, Caruelis, is from the Latin word carduus, which means “thistle.” Goldfinches are very dependent on thistles for food and even use thistledown to line their nests.
The American Goldfinch is one of the latest breeding songbirds, waiting to nest until mid-to-late summer when thistle seeds and down are readily available.
When breeding for the first time, young American Goldfinch will begin nesting at least two weeks later than experienced adults.
Unlike many birds, the American Goldfinch undergoes a complete molt each spring. This molt requires a large amount of nutrients and energy which probably diminishes their ability to nest earlier in the season.
American Goldfinch typically have only one brood per year, although veteran females may produce an additional brood. To facilitate a second nesting, a female will leave her original mate in care of the first brood and find a new male as her partner for the second nesting.
It is estimated that there are three males for every two females in the population of American Goldfinch. This imbalanced ratio may be due to the fact that male goldfinch live longer than their female counterparts.
The female American Goldfinch chooses the nest site, builds the nest and incubates the eggs all on her own. The male feeds the female on the nest throughout incubation and takes on an ever increasing role in feeding the nestlings as they grow older.
American Goldfinch can weave their nest so tightly that it will temporarily hold water.
American Goldfinch attach their nest to supporting twigs with spider web.
American Goldfinches prefer to nest in habitats with trees and shrubs and usually place their nest 4-10 feet high, often near a water source. They will sometimes nest in a loose colony.
Goldfinches usually lay 5 pale-blue or greenish-blue eggs that will hatch in about 12 days. Nestlings will fledge about 12 days after that.
While most Brown-headed Cowbird eggs fool the female American Goldfinch and are incubated to hatching, few cowbird chicks live longer than three or four days. This is due to the low amounts of protein found in the vegetarian diet of the goldfinch.
Young American Goldfinch are dependent on their parents for at least three weeks after fledging. Be sure to watch and listen for their energetic begging as they harass their parents for food at your feeders.
Female American Goldfinch are dominant over males in the summer and appear to be subservient to them in the winter. See if you call tell a difference at your feeders.
American Goldfinch will use almost any feeder, including ones that require them to hang upside down to eat. Studies have shown their preference is to sit upright at perches on feeders that are hung in trees above head height.
American Goldfinch are dominated by Pine Siskin and House Finch during the winter and play second fiddle to them at feeders.
American Goldfinch are common feeder visitors and prefer thistle (nyjer) and sunflower seeds.
American Goldfinch are rather acrobatic, often dipping upside down while feeding on weed seeds such as coneflowers and sunflowers.
To stay warm on a cold winter’s night, American Goldfinches have been known to burrow under the snow to form a cozy sleeping cavity. They will also roost together in coniferous trees.
Unlike many birds, Goldfinches completely molt their feathers twice a year, before breeding in the spring and after nesting in the fall.
During their fall feather molting, American Goldfinches grow a new set of feathers that are much denser than their summer plumage. These soft feathers provide an additional layer of insulation to help keep them warm throughout the winter.
The color of the legs, feet and bill of the American Goldfinch change with each feather molt. In winter plumage, their legs, feet and bill are dark grayish brown. In breeding plumage they change to a buffy yellow orange color.
The American Goldfinch is the state bird of New Jersey, Iowa and Washington.
Of the more than 3 million banded American Goldfinches, the oldest one ever recaptured in the wild was at least 10 years and 5 months old.