thistle feeder

Goldfinches – True Birds of Summer

Goldfinches on Droll Yankee finch feederOne of everyone’s favorite summer birds is the Goldfinch.  This striking yellow and black bird is very active in summer throughout North America.   And they’re mantled in  their most visible and beautiful plumage.   But goldfinches are perhaps best known for their looping up and down flight as well as cheerful, melodious singing throughout the summer.

There are several species of goldfinches in North America.  The American Goldfinch (shown) is the most widespread by far.  It can be found in all the lower 48 states either some parts of the year or all the time.  In Texas for example, American Goldfinches are only seen in the fall and winter.  These birds migrate northward in spring.  For the most part, the American Goldfinch is seen in open country, but is also at home in gardens and wooded areas.

The Lesser Goldfinch is a bird of the southwest and coastal Pacific states,Lesser Goldfinch - male and is seen in a variety of habitats including gardens, parks, and open country.  Lawrence’s Goldfinch is found almost exclusively in California, and seen in open country near water.

In all cases, the female goldfinch has less yellow and less striking plumage in general.

One unique feature of goldfinches is their late-nesting schedule.  They usually nest in early to mid summer.  The reason is that it coincides (in many areas of the country) with the ripening of thistle plants which they use to line their nests.  Also, they will feed the thistle seeds to their young.  This is one reason many people say “where have my goldfinches gone to?” in early summer.  The answer is that they’re busy with nest-building.

The good news is that goldfinches can have more than one brood of young in a season.  I’ve seen them feeding their young at my thistle feeder in Michigan in October!

TIP:  You can put out a hanging basket or mesh bag of “cottony” fibers or even dryer lint during nesting season so the finches will come and use it to line their nests with. 

The best way to attract goldfinches to your yard is to give them food and water.  As far as food goes, a Nyjer thistle feeder attracts them like a magnet.  The birds love this seed (not true thistle and imported from overseas) and will pick them out one at a time from the small openings on the feeder.  Nyjer can be purchased at stores and can be very expensive.  But Nyjer can dry out and go bad after a short while.  So, make sure to change the seed in the feeder if the birds haven’t eaten it in a month or more.

The other food you can provide is from flowers and plants you have in your garden.  When certain flower seeds go to seed, goldfinches will readily go for them.  Cosmos, Purple Coneflower, and Sunflowers are just a few plant seeds loved by goldfinches.  Make sure to leave the old plants in the garden into the fall.

And goldfinches love water too.  Put out a shallow birdbath or dish of water in the garden for your goldfinches.  As long as the water is no more than an inch deep, they’ll readily take a bath.

So, now is the best time of the year to enjoy the color, cheerful song, and feisty antics of goldfinches in your yard.



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Cornell Lab of Ornithology