American Goldfinch Mating, Nesting, Feeding Habits

The American Goldfinch goes through a significant change in plumage as the seasons change from Winter to Spring and its mating and nesting habits begin.

Feeding Goldfinches into late Spring will give you the best opportunity to view the male's brilliant yellow and black color combination.

Nyjer seed is a favorite of this bird at your feeder, and the larger birds won't eat any which saves on your bird seed budget.

American Goldfinch Feeding on Thistle

American Goldfinch on Thistle Plant

American Goldfinch Call


American Goldfinches are about 5 inches in size.

The winter plumage of the male is a yellowish brown, with light yellow on the face and chin, and the wings are black with white bars.

In summer, the male has a bright yellow body, and a black cap, with the tail and wings black with white bands.

The females are yellowish green with black wings and tails during summer, changing to a grayish brown with very little yellow and dark brown wings with white wing bars in winter.

Attracting this bird to your backyard in winter can be as easy as placing a feeder filled with nyjer seed or hulled sunflower seed.

Be sure to keep your feeder stocked well into spring so you can see the bright yellow of the male.

Mating and Courtship Breeding Habits

Long before the nesting season, the courtship habits of the American Goldfinch begin. Usually, several males try to attract the same female.

While there are short flutter flights high in the air between males, the most common behavior includes males chasing after females.

Several male birds may chase the female for twenty minutes or more over a large area, with the female likely to pick the dominant male.

The breeding season doesn't occur until late summer, generally late July through early September.

In the meantime, these birds remain relatively quiet in and around their habitat.

Goldfinch Nesting Habits

Feeding on Thistle

In the western part of their range, Goldfinch nesting habits may begin as early as May or June.

Typically, in the East, these birds don't begin nesting until August. Why is it that they nest so late as opposed to other songbirds?

It's thought that the blooming period of the Thistle plant plays a part in the timing of their nesting.

Thistle plants bloom in July, and the downy-like seed heads are a major nesting material.

Then, as late summer approaches, these Thistle plants set seed which is eaten by the adults and regurgitated to the young back at the nest.

baby goldfinches waiting to eat

Three Baby Goldfinches on Limb

The American Goldfinch prefers a habitat that is open with a few scattered shrubs and trees.

They are likely to be found on farms and in backyard gardens. Most nests I find are in wetland areas.

The nest is made from strands of weeds and vines. Downy filaments such as the thistle disperse and caterpillar webbing is used to weave the cup-shaped nest.

The nest can be so tightly woven as to hold water.

Once the nest is built, both males and females may leave the area. This may give the appearance that they have abandoned the nest.

They return in a few days, and the female begins laying eggs. In some cases, this can be two weeks after nest completion.

The nest is located 4 to 20 feet above the ground in a shrub or tree.

The female lays from 3 to 7 light blue eggs, which are incubated for 12 to 14 days.

The female may spend ninety-five percent of her time incubating the eggs.

Incubation is the term and not the gestation period when it comes to describing bird nesting behavior.

The male will feed her during this time, allowing her to stay in the nest.

American Goldfinch Nesting Stats
Eggs 3 - 7
Incubation 12 - 14 days
Nestling Phase 11 - 15 days
Broods 1 - 2

The young birds leave the nest about 11 to 15 days after hatching.

The female builds the nest by herself. A second nest may be built by her while the male continues to feed the first broods of fledglings. 2 broods may be raised each season.

The young may be attended to by the adults for up to three weeks after leaving the nest.

Do American Goldfinches Reuse Nest?

Although rare, a nest may be used for a second brood in the same season. Other birds may use the nest if not being used by Goldfinches.

They do not use the same nest from season to season. However, they may return to the same territory, providing they had a successful nest.

Feeding Habits -What Do Goldfinch Eat?

Goldfinches are easily attracted to bird feeders all year by supplying nyjer/thistle or hulled sunflower seed for them to eat.

Specially designed Thistle Feeders are required because nyjer seed is tiny.

When feeding their young, the parents fill their crops with seeds and maybe small aphids or caterpillars and regurgitate them part by part to the young birds.

This method allows them to feed each of the young birds each time they visit the nest.

Feeding on Sunflower Seed

Do Goldfinches Migrate South in Winter?

While it is considered a migrator, for most of the lower 48, the American Goldfinch is a permanent resident and does not go south in winter.

During the breeding season, these Finches increase their range as far as mid-Alberta.

In winter, the American Goldfinch will form flocks and feed together with little aggression towards each other. The males look more like the females during winter.

To help these birds as well as other species, consider providing a Heated Birdbath in Winter.


The lifespan of the American Goldfinch in the wild averages 3 - 6 years. Maximum Recorded - 11 years.

Recommended Feeders For Goldfinches

spiral finch feeder
Bird Quest Spiral Finch
Giant Finch Flocker
Giant Finch Flocker
house finch feeder with tray
Nyjer Feeder w/Tray
upside down Goldfinch Feeder
Upside Down Nyjer Feeder

Perfect Gift Idea - Heated Bird Baths
heated bird bath pedestal
Heated Pedestal Baths

heated bird bath with dripper
Heated Ground Bath
heated bird bath deck mounted
Heated Deck Mounted

heated birdbath deck mounted
Scallaped Deck Mounted