Bird of the Week #3: American Goldfinch

There’s a bit of a recuring theme with a lot of these birds: they didn’t show up last year when I first started birding, but this year, they’re here in droves. The American Goldfinch is no exception. It’s possible I simply started too late in the year to attract some species, but I get what must be dozens of the American Goldfinch stopping by every day and I couldn’t be happier to see them.

In Kansas, the American Goldfinch is a year-round resident. This is especially exciting because the American Goldfinch actually changes color through the year as it molts. During the colder months, the male goldfinch will have a more gray/olive color, but during the summer, he’s the bright yellow he’s famous for. Females are much duller, being a gray color with a little bit of yellow. That said, it’s easy to tell their genders apart in the summer, but a little tougher in winter.

Goldfinches are very social, flocking birds. You’ll rarely see a goldfinch all by itself. Whenever they show up at my feeders, they always arrive in groups.

If you set out a nest house hoping to get goldfinches to brood, you’ll be disappointed. Goldfinches are cup-nesters and will build their nests in trees.

The easiest way to attract goldfinches is to set out a thistle feeder full of Nyjer seed. Finches love Nyjer, but goldfinches especially adore them. I’ve seen goldfinches also go for sunflower seeds, sometimes even skipping Nyjer for sunflower. But nobody eats at my Nyjer feeder like the goldfinches do.

Currently, I have a special finch blend in my thistle feeder. It contains Nyjer seed as well as small bits of sunflower. It’s called Nyjer Plus and it’s made by Audubon. You can get it at Lowe’s. Larger pieces wouldn’t fit through the little holes in my feeder. I really would prefer the goldfinches stick strictly to the thistle feeder, and I hoped giving them a good variety would help, but they do whatever they want.

Goldfinches eat almost entirely seeds. Seldomly, they will eat insects, but usually only to feed protein to their young. Some even suspect that eating insects is entirely accidental and they only do so when a bug is in their way as they pick seeds out of flowers. When goldfinches are chicks, their parents will regurgitate food into their mouths. Gross.

One of the nicest things about goldfinches is how rarely aggressive toward other birds they are. Even during breeding season, they aren’t all that territorial.

The goldfinch is the state bird in three states: Iowa, New Jersey, and Washington.

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