How to Attract Goldfinches

Lesser Goldfinch on Flower
Seed-bearing flowers are magnets to attract goldfinches.

Daniel D'Auria/Flickr/CC by-SA 2.0

Goldfinches are beautiful and desirable backyard birds. While these wild canaries can be finicky, backyard birders who learn how to attract goldfinches by carefully catering to their needs and preferences will find flocks of gold fluttering in their yard.

Why We Love Goldfinches

There are four species of goldfinch in the world, all of which are sought after as backyard guests.

  • American goldfinch (found in North America, primarily in Canada and the United States)
  • Lesser goldfinch (range encompasses the southwestern United States into South America)
  • Lawrence's goldfinch (restricted range in California, Baja California and western Arizona)
  • European goldfinch (widespread in Europe, the Middle East and southern Australia)

Despite their widespread ranges, goldfinches are all small but feisty birds that are year-round residents in much of their territory, though some populations are migratory. Their bright colors, distinctive songs, acrobatic antics and healthy appetites for all types of weed seeds make them welcome backyard visitors and helpful in the garden. They can be elusive to attract to even the most bird-friendly backyard, however, and it takes dedicated effort to make a yard goldfinch-friendly.

How to Attract Goldfinches

As with any backyard bird, it is essential to meet goldfinches' basic needs for nutritious food, fresh water, secure shelter and appropriate nesting sites in order to readily attract them.

  • Food: Goldfinches are granivorous birds that subsist almost entirely on seeds. Unlike other songbirds, goldfinches do not typically feed their chicks insects – instead, hatchlings are fed regurgitated seeds. Seed-bearing flowers such as sunflowers, coneflowers and other familiar native blooms are best for a natural food source. These birds will also readily visit feeders that offer sunflower seed hearts or chips as well as Nyjer. Mesh-style feeders or feeding socks allow these agile birds to perch in different positions, and tube feeders or tray feeders are also good choices. Because these are gregarious birds that often feed in flocks, providing multiple feeders will allow more birds access to the food and encourage them to stay nearby.
  • Water: Goldfinches will easily stop by a bird bath for a quick sip or a vigorous bath, but it is best if the basin is a shallow one that allows easy access for these smaller birds to use. A dripper or fountain in the bath will help attract goldfinches with splashing sounds. The bath and surrounding perches should be cleaned regularly to avoid spreading diseases that could quickly infect an entire flock.
  • Shelter: Dense trees and shrubs are the preferred shelter for all types of goldfinches, and thorny bushes will provide another layer of protection from predators or nest bandits. The best backyard will provide a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees and shrubs for the birds to feel safe in all conditions and different seasons. If it is not possible to plant trees, a tall brush pile can provide supplemental shelter, though goldfinches will not use it as regularly as sparrows.
  • Nesting Sites: Goldfinches are not cavity-nesting birds and they will not use bird houses, but providing secure shelter is the first step toward giving them a safe and secure place to raise their chicks. Downy plants such as dandelions and thistle are ideal as natural nesting material, and supplemental supplies of all natural cotton nesting material can encourage them to build nests nearby. Because goldfinches typically nest later in the season than other songbirds, it is best to leave the nesting material available until late summer rather than remove them after other birds have fledged. Protecting the nesting material from summer showers will ensure it is fluffy and attractive to nesting goldfinches.

    More Tips for Attracting Goldfinches

    Goldfinches are known for their finicky behavior, and they may be in your backyard one day and gone the next. If you have trouble attracting them consistently, try…

    • Checking birdseed for spoilage. Seed should be fresh and dry to cater to goldfinches' tastes, so use baffles to keep it dry and opt for feeders where air can circulate around the seed to keep it from molding.
    • Clean up hulls and spilled seed underneath bird feeders. This will minimize the risk of spreading diseases to finches foraging on the ground or to other ground-feeding birds such as sparrows and doves.
    • Keep your backyard colorful by planting flowers in colors that attract birds, and allow those flowers to go to seed to provide natural nesting material and food for visiting goldfinches.
    • Avoid using herbicides or other chemical treatments that would eliminate natural food sources for seed-loving goldfinches. Instead, allow plants to reseed naturally and enjoy the savings when you don't need to buy as much birdseed to feed a hungry flock.

    Goldfinches are a joy to have in the backyard, and while it may take a few weeks or months to attract these bright, colorful birds, backyard birders who meet their needs consistently can be rewarded with bright splashes of yellow all year long.