Meet the American Goldfinch and Explore Their Unique Habits

Updated October 19, 2023

The American Goldfinch undergoes a remarkable transformation in its feathers as the transition from Winter to Spring takes place, signaling the start of its mating and nesting behavioral habits.

To catch a glimpse of the male's stunning yellow and black plumage, it is advisable to continue feeding Goldfinches until late Spring.

Attracting this bird to your feeder is easily achieved by offering Nyjer seed, which is a preferred choice.

An Additional benefit to offering this seed is that few other species will eat it. This includes squirrels.

American Goldfinch Feeding on Thistle

American Goldfinch on Thistle Plant

American Goldfinch Call

The American Goldfinch song consists of a combination of short, clear notes and longer, trilling phrases.

The rhythm is lively and pleasant to the ear. The male goldfinches are known for their enthusiastic singing, especially during the breeding season.

Their song is often heard in flight or from perches, as they communicate and establish their territories.

Another call is a soft, twittering sound, often heard during foraging or when the goldfinches are in close proximity to each other.

It is a gentle, rhythmic call that conveys a sense of contentment and social bonding.


Male American Goldfinches are about 5 inches long from the tip of their bill to the end of their tail.

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.

Female Goldfinches - What They Look Like

Female Goldfinches are not as brightly colored as the males. They are the same size as males and easy to tell the difference between the two.

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.

What a Female American Goldfinch Looks Like Feeding on Clover

Female American Goldfinch

By keeping your feeder well stocked into spring, you'll see the bright yellow of the male and the more vibrant colors of the female, as they enter the breeding stage.

Mating and Courtship 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.

When is the American Goldfinches Breeding and Egg Laying Season?

The American Goldfinches breeding and egg laying 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 In The Wild 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 late July - 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 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.

Where Do Goldfinch Nest?

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 and placed at the top of shrubs.

American Goldfinch Nesting Stats
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 Goldfinches Eat?

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While Goldfinches are easily attracted to bird feeders all year by supplying nyjer/thistle or hulled sunflower seed you'll need a specially designed Thistle Feeder because the nyjer seed will fall out of a sunflower seed feeder.

These birds will also eat black-oil sunflower seeds. I like to offer a variety of seeds so I can attract more birds.

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 partial 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 expand their territory as far as mid-Alberta. Those that breed in the northern regions, will migrate southward during the winter.

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.

What is the Lifespan of the American Goldfinch?

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

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