Of all our backyard birds, the goldfinch is probably one of our favorites — simply because of their sweet personality and the male’s gorgeous, lemony color accented with black. Their color is so distinctive, they’re also known as a wild canary! Here are some other fun facts about goldfinches!
Goldfinches can feed upside down! Often goldfinches are observed hanging upside down from the top of a big sunflower, plucking out the seeds below. And the ability to pose upside down helps these birds as they bob and sway on the fragile seed heads of grasses and other plants they love. There are even special goldfinch feeders that allow the birds to feed upside down and discourage birds like sparrows from dining. But when a goldfinch has a choice, he takes the easier route and feeds right-side-up!
Goldfinches love Nyjer seed. Nyjer is an imported bird seed that very closely resembles the seed of American thistle plants — plants these birds depend on for food and nesting. However Nyjer isn’t invasive or prickly like the thistle. Nyjer can be offered to your goldfinches in a Nyjer stocking, a Nyjer tube feeder or added to a seed blend on a platform feeder. Or offer them sunflower seeds, another goldfinch favorite. For an extra treat, try just the sunflower hearts. Although goldfinches have a bill especially made for cracking weed seeds and extracting the meats, all birds appreciate easy-eating in the form of sunflower hearts.
Goldfinches lay about 5 greenish blue eggs that hatch in about 12 days and the babies leave the nest about 12 days after that. Goldfinches build an open nest in shrubs and thickets, often near water. They mate and lay their eggs later in the year than most birds, waiting for the thistle plants on which they depend to mature. The thistle plants give them down to line their nests and seeds to feed their fledglings.
While most birds augment their diet with insects, tree buds or even fruit and nuts, the goldfinch exists almost entirely upon seeds! And the oldest, banded Goldfinch that was recaptured in the wild was over 11 years old!
In winter, goldfinches are an irruptive species — meaning they will move in great flocks from one location to another in search of areas that are more abundant in food. Frequently they will travel with redpolls and pine siskins. That probably explains why you might see lots of goldfinches at your feeder one day and then they’re gone the next! Siskins and winter goldfinches look very much alike because male goldfinches have lost their yellow plumage and appear greenish-yellow like the females and the siskins. However, you can tell the difference by looking at the bird’s breast. Siskins have a striped breast, while goldfinches have a plain breast.
The goldfinch is always a cheerful, welcome addition to our yards and feeders. Their slowly changing colors in early spring, lovely song and undulating flight in summer, and their appearance in large flocks in winter, make goldfinches fun to watch all year long.
— Roxanne Brune