Photo: Brian Kushner/Audubon Photography Awards

American Goldfinch

Spinus tristis

A typical summer sight is a male American Goldfinch flying over a meadow, flashing golden in the sun, calling perchickory as it bounds up and down in flight. In winter, when males and females alike are colored in subtler brown, flocks of goldfinches congregate in weedy fields and at feeders, making musical and plaintive calls. In most regions this is a late nester, beginning to nest in mid-summer, perhaps to assure a peak supply of late-summer seeds for feeding its young.
Conservation status Widespread and very common, although possibly has declined recently in some areas.
Family Finches
Habitat Patches of thistles and weeds, roadsides, open woods, edges. Found at all seasons in semi-open areas having open weedy ground and some trees and bushes for shelter, especially areas of second growth, streamsides, roadsides, woodland edges, orchards, suburban areas. In winter also in some very open fields farther from trees.
A typical summer sight is a male American Goldfinch flying over a meadow, flashing golden in the sun, calling perchickory as it bounds up and down in flight. In winter, when males and females alike are colored in subtler brown, flocks of goldfinches congregate in weedy fields and at feeders, making musical and plaintive calls. In most regions this is a late nester, beginning to nest in mid-summer, perhaps to assure a peak supply of late-summer seeds for feeding its young.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages actively in weeds, shrubs, and trees, often climbing about acrobatically on plants such as thistles to reach the seeds. Except during breeding season, usually forages in flocks. Commonly comes to feeders for small seeds.


Eggs

4-6, sometimes 2-7. Pale bluish white, occasionally with light brown spots. Incubation is by female only, about 12-14 days. Male feeds female during incubation. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. At first male brings food, female gives it to young; then both parents feed; role of female gradually declines, so that male may provide most food in later stages. Young leave nest about 11-17 days after hatching.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings. At first male brings food, female gives it to young; then both parents feed; role of female gradually declines, so that male may provide most food in later stages. Young leave nest about 11-17 days after hatching.

Diet

Mostly seeds, some insects. Diet is primarily seeds, especially those of the daisy (composite) family, also those of weeds and grasses, and small seeds of trees such as elm, birch, and alder. Also eats buds, bark of young twigs, maple sap. Feeds on insects to a limited extent in summer. Young are fed regurgitated matter mostly made up of seeds.


Nesting

Nesting begins late in season in many areas, with most nesting activity during July and August. In courtship, male performs fluttering flight display while singing. Nest: Usually in deciduous shrubs or trees, sometimes in conifers or in dense weeds, usually less than 30' above the ground and placed in horizontal or upright fork. Nest (built by female) is a solid, compact cup of plant fibers, spiderwebs, plant down (especially from thistles); nest is so well-made that it may even hold water.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

Irregular in migration, with more remaining in North in winters with good food supply. Peak migration is usually mid-fall and early spring, but some linger south of nesting range to late spring or early summer. Migrates mostly by day.

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Migration

Irregular in migration, with more remaining in North in winters with good food supply. Peak migration is usually mid-fall and early spring, but some linger south of nesting range to late spring or early summer. Migrates mostly by day.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Bright per-chick-o-ree, also rendered as potato-chips, delivered in flight and coinciding with each undulation.