More about Goldfinches

What do Goldfinches Look Like?

The goldfinch's Latin name comes from carduus (eats seeds of thistle) tristus(sad, referring to its plaintive call).  While its true that the goldfinch enjoys thistle seeds, there is nothing sad about this beautiful, colourful little bird.

Goldfinches are between 11 and 14 centimetres (4 1/2 to 5 1/2 inches) long and weigh from 11.8 to 13.3 grams (1/3 to 1/2 ounce).

In spring and summer, the breeding male is bright yellow with black wings, cap and tail. Males have narrow white wing bars.  Breeding females are mostly yellow and are brightest on the throat and breast.  Winter males and females are brownish or greyish above, but the male has a stronger yellow wash on the head. Immature birds are similar to the breeding female in colour but they are cinnamon above and on the wing bars.  Females have dusky wings and two white wing bars.  They have short, cone-shaped beaks and notched tails.  They are often called wild canaries.

Goldfinches live in mixed flocks and bound through the air in deeply undulating flight.  Flocks often sing in chorus and males sing even in flight.   

Where do Goldfinches Live?

American Goldfinches live coast to coast, from Southern Canada through most of the United States for much of the year.  As temperatures fall, they will move south from their northernmost territories to more moderate climates.  In winter they can be found from Mexico and Florida.  They rarely winter in the interior parts of the United States. 

Goldfinches can be found almost everywhere.  They live in cities and towns, rural areas, wooded areas and anywhere they can find a good supply of their favourite foods.   

What do Goldfinches Eat?

Their favourite food is thistle seed but they also enjoy seeds from birches, alders, conifers and other trees.  They also eat seeds from goldenrod, asters, burdock, dandelion, chicory as well as garden seeds.  They come to feeders for sunflower seed and Niger seeds (thistle).   Berries and insects are also a part of their diet. 

Goldfinches and Their Young

Flocks of goldfinches break up in July and August, when the birds form pairs and begin to nest.  The male courts the female with a beautiful canary-like song.  The female selects the nest site in hedge, brush, or the border of a field. The nesting location is always near a good supply of thistle.  She builds a nest of woven plant fibres that is lined with thistledown or milkweed down.   She will usually choose the fork of a maple or other hardwood tree, sapling or bush that is at least .3 to 10 metres (1 to 33 feet) above the ground, although some will nest in thistles closer to the ground.

The thick-walled nest becomes home to between 4 and 6 pale blue eggs.  The female sits on the eggs for 12 to 14 days.  The hatchlings are altricial (alTRIcial), which means they are born without feathers and with their eyes closed.  Their parents feed them in the nest.  They are raised entirely on seeds which have been partly digested by the parents and regurgitated into their mouths.  By the time they are 10 to 16 days old, all their feathers have grown in and they are ready to leave the nest.  The parents continue to supplement them with food until they learn to fly strongly and until they learn to self-feed.  Once again, the birds form their happy flocks and sing their way from place to place.

The call note of the goldfinch sounds like "dear me, dear me".

They are also called catnip bird, beet bird, lettuce bird, salad bird and thistle bird because they eat those seeds.  Other names include wild canary, willow goldfinch and yellowbird.

Accidents can happen to goldfinches.  They have been caught on the hooked burrs of burdock and could not escape.  Some have become caught in the webs of garden spiders.

The American Goldfinch is the State bird of Washington.

Some live to be six to eight years old, although one lived to be 13.


Their flight speed is 30 to 60 KPH (19 to 30 MPH).




 Goldfinch Quiz

A: They're called goldfinches because

1)    they like jewelry

2)   they migrate to Fort Knox

3)      they have yellow (gold) feathers

4)      they nest on bank buildings

B: Another name for the goldfinch is:

1)      wild canary

2)   Turkey vulture

3)   wahzat

4)      little yellow things


C: The Goldfinch's favourite food is:

1)     sea serpents

2)  thistle seed

3)     worms

4)     papaya


D: Goldfinches sing like:

1)  Donald Duck

2)      ostriches

3)      canaries

4)      the Spice Girls


E: Goldfinches nest near:

1)      parking lots

2)      a shopping mall

3)      rivers

4)  a good supply of thistle



How did you do?  If you
stand on your head,

you can find out.



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