All About the American Goldfinch

All About the American Goldfinch

Elinor CohenApril 21, 2022
Valley Farms Shop

by Elinor Cohen

 

Gold, bold, and beautiful, the American Goldfinch may be in your backyard!

On the heels of our most recent discussion of the greenfinch comes the bold and beautiful American goldfinch! Small and migratory but bursting with personality, the American goldfinch is one of North America’s most coveted wild birds. The Carduelis tristis, known by some as the willow goldfinch, the thistle finch, and the eastern goldfinch, is a 5-inch passerine bird that is said to bring hope, joy, and positivity wherever it flocks.

Symbolizing Prosperity and Hope 

Native Americans associated these canary-colored beauties with prosperity and abundance, The birds often appeared in medieval paintings of the Madonna and Child as a symbol of fertility; in the early 18th century, the word “goldfinch” was used as slang to refer to the extremely wealthy. Whether by coincidence or intention, birdwatchers tend to feel an instant sense of enthusiasm and liveliness when American goldfinches come around.

 

 

 

 

Looking Good & Feeling Great

American goldfinches have several noteworthy characteristics, the most prominent of which may be their visual appearance. Adult males are known for their bright yellow feathers and black patched foreheads, the hues of which only intensify during breeding season to attract mates.

Adult females tend to have more brownish feathers on their bodies with a duller yellow and an olive color on top. Both males and females have black wings with white markings and white patches above and underneath their tails. These little birds have short, conical bills, small heads, long wings, and short-notched tails.

 

Breeding Male

 

Breeding Female

As for their sounds, songs, and behaviors, American goldfinches have 6 vocalizations, the most noteworthy of which is their iconic “po-ta-to-chip” call. Highly social birds, they flock shortly after breeding season ends which is why autumnal flocks of American goldfinches may see numbers as high as the thousands.  

They are active and acrobatic, clinging to weeds and seed socks when not hopping around on the ground or soaring in the air. These birds fly in a bouncy, wave-like pattern, readily dipping and rising as they go.

Where, oh Where Do the Goldfinches Go?

As the official state bird for Washington State, Iowa, and New Jersey, the American goldfinch is no stranger to North America. Like many of their wild bird counterparts, these birds are migratory. During breeding season (primarily late July and August) they can be found across mid-Alberta in Canada all the way down to North Carolina. In the winter, birders tend to spot them anywhere south of the Canada-US border all the way down to Mexico. 

Speaking of breeding, several reports have recently come out about wild birds nesting and laying eggs up to a whole month earlier than they did over a century ago. In early April, The Washington Post released an article discussing the potential impact of climate change on birds’ breeding habits. The piece pointed to evidence from the Journal of Animal Ecology to substantiate what many bird enthusiasts suspected: a whopping 72 species of wild birds’ egg-laying dates moved up by almost one month. This information is especially important to keep in mind as the birds may find that their scavenging for food from their traditional food sources may become more competitive.

If you are looking to lure American goldfinches to your backyard, you’re in luck! Valley Farms® has Finch Socks specifically designed to help attract them to your neck of the woods.

These Nyjer socks are made from softly woven white cloth netting and feature a drawstring for easy hanging. Use with Wild Finch Mix or Nyjer Seed!

 

At Home in the Brush

No matter where they set up camp throughout the continent, American goldfinches tend to gravitate towards the edges of forests and plains as well as backyards and parks. They prefer shrubby areas but can also be found in open fields. 

Finches have had a trying relationship with population trends throughout history. The most noteworthy crash in numbers was when bird enthusiasts in Victorian Britain trapped goldfinches as cage birds. This resulted in a significant population crash, which is something that the Society for the Protection of Birds (now the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds/RSPB) has worked hard to reverse. 

As for seasonality, it is typical for spring to bring on an influx of American goldfinches. If you’ve started to notice that your feeders have been a little emptier lately, you’re not alone. Hordes of these birds tend to deplete birdfeeders on their trips back north after being south for the winter.

Something to Nosh On

On the topic of feeding, these finches are granivores, meaning they mainly eat seeds and from seed-producing plants. Some favorites of the American goldfinch include seeds from Asters and coneflowers, as well as sunflower seeds, thistle seeds, and dandelion seeds. We suggest filling your feeders up while the seeds are still in stock – there’s no telling how quickly these finches will sap you of your stash!

Breeding Baby Goldfinches 

While many wild birds (the American goldfinch included) are seeing a shift in the timing of their breeding season, breeding patterns themselves have not changed much. Female finches tend to lay between 2-7 eggs per nest, with the eggs hatching after about a 2-week incubation period. Nestlings are typically ready to fly the coup after about 12 days, but much like college graduates, often return to their parents’ nests and stay with them for about another month before leaving for good. American goldfinches have an average lifespan of 11 years, which is on the higher end of most wild birds that they tend to hover between 3-12 years.  

Are you ready to see more American goldfinches in your neighborhood? Feed the birds with Valley Farms®! Shop for bird food and supplies and explore our blog to learn how to keep the birds in your backyard safe and thriving. 

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