American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch - Male
American Goldfinch - Male. James Marvin Phelps

With its bright yellow plumage, perky behavior and melodious song, the American goldfinch is one of the most highly sought after backyard birds. Found throughout the United States, this common bird is a welcome guest for many backyard birders.

Common Name:

American Goldfinch, Goldfinch, Wild Canary

Scientific Name:

Carduelis tristis

Appearance:

  • Bill: Thick and conical with a pale or light gray color
  • Size: 5 inches long with 8-9-inch wingspan
  • Colors: Black, white, bright yellow, olive yellow
  • Markings: Dimorphic species. Male birds have a black cap on the forehead and crown, with a lemon yellow back, abdomen, chest and sides. Black wings have two white wing bars and the black tail is edged with white. Female birds are a paler olive yellow with dull wings and lack the black cap. Both male and female birds have a white rump. In winter plumage males resemble females.

Foods:

Seeds, insects

Habitat and Migration:

American goldfinches are one of the most common and widespread backyard birds in North America and can be found in open fields, scrub forest and suburban habitats. Populations in southern Canada and the southern United States migrate seasonally but may linger where food sources are abundant.

Vocalizations:

The American goldfinch can be very vocal at backyard feeders. Calls include a high rapid chirping with an undulating pitch or short buzzes.

Longer, warbling songs are common during the breeding season in spring and early summer.

Behavior:

Goldfinches may congregate in small or medium mixed flocks during the fall and winter, often with pine siskins or other finches. These birds are mildly aggressive while feeding and become more territorial during breeding season.

American goldfinches can easily feed upside down and are often found clinging to seed heads or specialized feeders.

Reproduction:

American goldfinches form monogamous pairs that will annually raise 1-2 broods of 4-6 eggs each. Their nesting season begins later than that of many other species, and goldfinches may not have their first brood until mid- or late summer because of the need for seeds to feed the young birds. The female bird does the majority of the 10-12 day incubation, but both parents feed their offspring during the 11-17 day nestling phase.

Attracting American Goldfinches:

American goldfinches are easily attracted to backyard feeders filled with nyger seed, though they will also eat black oil sunflower seed. Specialized finch birdfeeders may offer a high number of feeding ports to accommodate large finch flocks. Backyard birders can also plant a bird-friendly garden that contains thistle, dandelion, coneflowers and other plants that will provide both nesting material and food for American goldfinches.

Similar Birds:

American Goldfinch - Male Photo © James Marvin Phelps
American Goldfinch - Female Photo © Trisha Shears