Goldfinches! Fun Facts

Learn fun facts about goldfinches!

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

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  • Melissa March 22, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    I love the American Goldfinch, which just happens to be our Iowa state bird! Also, I’m very fond of the female coloring on this bird, & do not think her less gorgeous than the male. Like the Cardinals it takes two to make a beautiful statement in the garden! There is nothing like watching a Goldfinch swaying in the summer breeze on a Green Wizard coneflower. The flower, vaguely resembling the Mexican hat, is delicate & a tasty treat for the Goldfinch among the other varities of coneflowers. I’m looking forward to their return to our Midwestern flower beds & borders this spring after our especially troublesome winter.

  • Priscilla March 22, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Thank you for the information on the goldfinches. We have them here in Colorado but I didn’t know a lot about them, they are beautiful.

  • Sally Dragomanovich March 22, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    Here in northern California, I feed a flock of goldfinches year ’round. I have a squirrel-proof Duncraft Nyger Selective feeder which they love, and we are rewarded with beauty and lovely songs.
    Years ago when my parents were moving, my mom brought several canaries that she had raised in her aviary and let them loose in the spring near the apple tree where my feeder hangs. Her birds were beautiful bright yellow and apricot colored, and we hoped that her canaries would mate with the goldfinches. Maybe they did, because many of the birds I have seen over the years since have had gorgeous coloring!

  • Sarah March 22, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    One Duncraft selective nyger feeder in my yard almost always has goldfinches, but an identical feeder with fresh seed about 30 yards away fails to attract a single bird. Anything I can do to attract them over? Are they attracted to any specific color?

  • R. Brune March 23, 2010 at 7:58 am

    Hi Sarah,

    I do think birds are attracted to their own colors or the colors of the foods they like in nature, such as certain flowers (red) for hummingbirds. . Orioles are attracted by orange feeders and slices of oranges and I think Goldfinches are attracted by the color yellow. It seems the only difference you have going between the two feeders is location. Maybe there is something about the location of the second feeder that they’re wary of or maybe it doesn’t provide nearby cover, or something like that. I’d try moving the second feeder and see how that works.

  • Melissa March 24, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Just another input for Sarah, my birds came to an area that three bird baths, each a different depth. They preferred the shallow one most. They don’t like tipping in to drink & losing their balance! Also, they lean toward the sunnier feeder locations in my area at least. Hope this helps some more.

  • Sarah March 25, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    Thank you! The first feeder is very protected – hanging from a tree branch and they do seem to hide/emerge/hide while feeding. The second feeder is on a post – but I can see it out the window from my favorite chair!! Thank you so much for your kind responses. Everyone is busy – I appreciate your time.