Station 4
American Goldfinch


Physical Traits

A small finch with a short, conical bill and a small, head, long wings, and short, notched tail. Adult males in spring and early summer are bright yellow with black forehead, black wings with white markings, and white patches both above and beneath the tail. Adult females are duller yellow beneath, olive above. Winter birds are drab, unstreaked brown, with blackish wings and two pale wingbars.

Habitat

The goldfinch’s main natural habitats are weedy fields and floodplains, where plants such as thistles and asters are common. They’re also found in cultivated areas, roadsides, orchards, and backyards. American Goldfinches can be found at feeders any time of year, but most abundantly during winter.

Diet

Goldfinches eat seeds almost exclusively. Main types include seeds from composite plants (in the family Asteraceae: sunflowers, thistle, asters, etc.), grasses, and trees such as alder, birch, western red cedar, and elm. At feeders prefers nyjer and sunflower.

Behavior

American Goldfinches are active, acrobatic finches that balance on the seedheads of thistles, dandelions, and other plants to pluck seeds. They have a bouncy flight during which they frequently make their po-ta-to-chip calls. Although males sing exuberantly during spring, pairs do not nest until mid-summer, when thistles and other weeds have gone to seed. Goldfinches do not join other songbirds mobbing predators.

Nest Building Techniques

The nest is an open cup of rootlets and plant fibers lined with plant down, often woven so tightly that it can hold water. The female lashes the foundation to supporting branches using spider silk, and makes a downy lining often using the fluffy “pappus” material taken from the same types of seedheads that goldfinches so commonly feed on. It takes the female about 6 days to build the nest. The finished nest is about 3 inches across on the outside and 2-4.5 inches high. Male and female move around together to choose a suitable nest site. The female builds the nest, usually in a shrub or sapling in a fairly open setting rather than in forest interior. The nest is often built high in a shrub, where two or three vertical branches join; usually shaded by leaves of clusters of needles from above, but often open and visible from below.

Migration and Range

Short Distance Migrant

Cool Facts

American Goldfinches are the only finch that molts its body feathers twice a year, once in late winter and again in late summer.

The brightening yellow of male goldfinches each spring is one welcome mark of approaching warm months.

American Goldfinches breed later than most North American birds. They wait to nest until June or July when milkweed, thistle, and other plants have produced their fibrous seeds, which goldfinches incorporate into their nests and also feed their young.

Goldfinches are among the strictest vegetarians in the bird world, selecting an entirely vegetable diet and only
inadvertently swallowing an occasional insect.

When Brown-headed Cowbirds lay eggs in an American Goldfinch nest, the cowbird egg may hatch but the nestling seldom survives longer than three days. The cowbird chick simply can’t survive on the all-seed diet that goldfinches feed their young.

Goldfinch’s move south in winter following a pattern that seems to coincide with regions where the minimum January temperature is no colder than 0 degrees Fahrenheit on average.

As of May 2007, the oldest known American Goldfinch was 10 years 5 months old.

Paired-up goldfinches make virtually identical flight calls; goldfinches may be able to distinguish members of various pairs by these calls.

Where is the Goldfinch?

Stand looking straight past the numbered station post,
the small diameter Red Maple tree straight ahead is the home of the Goldfinch,
look for a right pointing branch about 5 meters up,
the Goldfinch is close to the trunk on that branch.

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