Our Wild Neighbors

American Goldfinch

Carduelis tristis

A visitor to Southern Canada bird feeders

Image of an American Goldfinch, mounted on a branch, seen in profile with its head to the right.

Description of the animal

  • In spring and summer, their nuptial plumage is bright yellow, with a black cap on the head, and black wings and tail (the males’ wings are striped with white bars). The female's plumage is olive-yellow, with touches of yellow on the neck and breast.
  • In autumn, they moult completely, and the male begins to resemble the female: his head and neck are now pale yellow, his back is olive-brown, and his breast brownish-beige. Males can be identified by their yellow shoulders.
  • The contrasting white rump is visible in flight.

Habitat and needs

  • These birds adore thistle and sunflower seeds. The American Goldfinch is a strict vegetarian, and can eat head-down, hanging from bird feeders or the tops of seeds and grasses.
  • They moult again in the spring; this is the only member of the Carduelis family to have mating plumage.
  • Feeding and traveling in flocks, the American Goldfinch is a sociable bird, except during the nesting period.
  • These birds beat their wings rapidly to gain height, and then let themselves drop momentarily, wings closed. What a lively flight style!
  • They reproduce later than most other birds, at the end of June or in July, when there is plenty of food and plant fibre for nest building.
  • Remaining calm, even when someone robs its nest, the American Goldfinch is really good-natured.
  • The male feeds his companion while she broods the eggs.
  • Their nest is so well made that it can hold water—unfortunately their nestlings can be drowned during heavy rains.

Relationship

  • Amateur birdwatchers love the American Goldfinch; they find them easy to identify, especially during the breeding season.
  • The American Goldfinch helps spread seeds.

Living with them

  • The American Goldfinch likes open ground, such as weedy fields with asters, sunflowers, thistles, milkweed, and grasses. It is also attracted to garden lettuce that has gone to seed.
  • Planting young trees or shrubs such as birch, maple, dogwood, or elderberry will provide nesting sites.
  • To prevent them from contracting contagious diseases, rake the earth around the base of bird feeders.

Participating cities where this animal has been seen