American Goldfinch

(Carduelis tristis)

American Goldfinch, these little birds go through a significant change in plumage as the seasons change and its mating and nesting habits begin.

Goldfinches indeed molt twice a year where most birds molt once in the fall and this can cause problems for novice birders, as they wonder where their yellow birds went.

Feeding goldfinches year round will give you a chance to witness this change will give as the males change to a brilliant yellow color in late winter and early spring.

The reverse takes place in late summer and early Autumn.

Choosing a good feeder will help keep the cost of nyjer to a minimum.

Male goldie


About 5 inches in size, the male winter colors a yellowish brown(almost drab olive green) with light yellow on the face and chin, wings black with white bars.

In late winter/early spring he begins to molt and has the looks of a patchy quilt.

when he is done, he will be a bright yellow with black wings and white wing bars. He will be dressed with a distinctive black cap.

The female goldfinch is yellowish green with black wings and tail during summer, changing to a grayish brown with very little yellow and dark brown wings with white wing bars in winter.

Attracting American goldfinches 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 that you can see the bright yellow of the male.

Female finch

Mating Habits:

Long before the nesting season, the mating habits of the American Goldfinch begin. Usually there are several males vying for one female.

While there are short flutter flights high in the air between males, the most common behavior includes males chasing after the female. Several male birds may chase the female for twenty minutes or more over a large area.

Actual mating doesn't occur until late summer, generally late July through early September in temperate regions.

In the meantime these birds remain relatively quiet.

American Goldfinch Nesting Habits:

In the deep South and western ranges the American Goldfinch may nest as early as May or June. Typically, in the East, these birds don't begin nesting until August.

As late summer approaches, these seed eating birds can count on a plentiful supply of weed and flower seeds to feed their young.

The American Goldfinch prefers an open habitat with some shrubs and trees and are likely found on farms and in backyard gardens.

The nest is made of strands from weeds and vines. Downy filaments such as the thistle disperses and caterpillar webbing are used to weave the cup shaped nest. The nest can be so tightly woven as to hold water (often eggs rot and babies drown after a heavy rain).

Once the nest is built, both male and female goldfinches leave the area. This may give the appearance that they have abandoned the nest. In a few days they both return 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 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. The male will feed her during this time allowing her to stay on the nest.

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

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

The Real Reason They Nest So Late.

Goldfinches are nearly 100% seed eating birds. This means they must reproduce when seeds are bountiful. After all, what are they going to feeding a hungry brood?

In the south and Pacific west, this could be as early as May and June.

Here in Michigan, American Goldfinches fledge in August and September when weeds and wildflowers are in full seed mode. Tiny seed of Goldenrod, seed from wildflowers like Rudbeckia, Prairie dock, and more. You may even witness this in your gardens.

Does this make sence to you?

Now, many so called experts want you to believe that Goldies are one of the last birds to nest because they wait for the down of the thistle to aid in nest making.

These Are The Facts. Canada thistle, Bull Thistle and several other species have been introduced and are now invasive plants.

Meaning that these weeds have only been around a couple hundred years. What did the finches use for plant down before hand?

Now, if plant down was a requirement, and not seed for food, why not nest when Cottonwood trees are in full down mode? Why not use the down from certain willows and other plants?

Now, you have the real answer the next time this topic is brought up. American Goldfinches are seed eaters period and must wait for food to feed their young.

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.

In winter, the American Goldfinch form flocks and feed together with little aggression towards each other.

If you plant sunflowers, cosmos, coneflowers and other seed producing flowers and your late summer yard will be filled with the flits and sounds of juvenile goldfinches begging to be fed.

As well as the acrobatic adults, as they swing and hang upside down to feed on your plants.


Lifespan in the wild averages 3 - 6 years. Maximum Recorded - 11 years.

American Goldfinch is one of Several Common Birds

What to Feed Finches

Specialty Feeders for Goldfinches

Add Water to Attract More Birds

Native Grasses for All Your Wildlife

Native Flowers for Food and Protection

Shrubs in Your Wildlife Gardens

Trees for Food and Protection

Build a Site of Your Own

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