All About Goldfinches: A Backyard Favourite

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

American goldfinches, more commonly referred to simply as goldfinches, are a backyard staple for many. Here in southern Ontario, we have goldfinches all year round and get to fully enjoy the changes the seasons bring alongside our feathered friends. Unlike many other songbirds, goldfinches are strict vegetarians and only eat plants and seeds. Particularly this time of year, they become scarce at feeders and it can leave people wondering if they did something wrong. We are going to cover goldfinches preferred foods, how that varies seasonally and what they are up to this time of year- strap in! 

American Goldfinch (male). Photo by Kristen Martyn. 

July into August goldfinches are nesting, which can make them more scarce at feeders than you are used to. Don't fret! They will be back. Goldfinches are known to be late nesters. This is heavily linked to the availability of natural foods that they enjoy. They wait patiently for thistle plants to mature, as thistledown is used to line their nests, and the seeds to feed their young. They rely heavily on other native plants and grasses to thrive, including milkweed, and ensure that their young are born at a time when plentiful food sources will be available to them. 

Goldfinch gathering nesting material from a Hummingbird Helper Cage 

Late spring/ early fall you can offer WBU Nest Building Material or the Hummingbird Helper Cage and Nesting Material, as a safe supplement for them to use in their nests. It is really interesting watch them pull nesting material, if you watch carefully you may find out where they are nesting- could be closer than you think! 

A Goldfinch nest. Photo by Kristen Martyn. 

Use this photo as reference and see if you can spot any goldfinch nests! Fall is always a fun time to search for different nests and examine the way they were constructed. As the leaves fall from the trees, many nests that you never knew were there become exposed. 

Goldfinch eating Sunflower Seeds. Photo by Kristen Martyn. 

Because we get to observe goldfinches year round, we are able to witness them go through two molting periods each year, one in the spring to transition to their breeding plumage and again after nesting to transition back to their more drab winter plumage. 

Here is a comparison of goldfinch plumage in winter and spring 
Male and female goldfinch in transitional plumage

How to Attract Goldfinches to Your Yard

I have a sneaky feeling that most of you have already accomplished this, but let's cover the basics: 

  • Offer some of their favourite foods such as Nyjer seed and Sunflower seed. They also really enjoy Finch Blend, Sunflower Chips and WBU No-Mess Blends. 
  • Offer these foods in finch-friendly feeders such as WBU Quick-Clean Finch Feeders
  • Create a finch feeding station: use an APS Pole System to hang multiple finch feeders in one area- you may be surprised by the number of goldfinches that will visit at once! 
  • Set up a bird bath, a water feature will attract many bird species, goldfinches enjoy it as well. Because they stay here year-round, consider a heated bird bath so that you can offer this to them even throughout the winter months

Goldfinch drinking at a deck-mounted bird bath. Photo by Heather Kerrison. 

If you use the Deck Clamp Bird Bath Holder you can have wonderful views of goldfinches drinking and bathing! 

Planting for Goldfinches

Some key plants to include in your garden to attract lots of goldfinches: 

  • Thistle - either plant it yourself or leave it be! Goldfinch eat thistle seeds, feed thistle seeds to their young and use thistledown to line their nests, where there is thistle, there are goldfinches. 
  • Sunflower- goldfinches love sunflower seeds and wait until they are plentiful for nesting. Offering sunflower seeds year-round is a great idea, but real sunflowers are a huge draw for them in the summer months 
  • Black-eyed Susan- late blooming, provides seeds that are an important food source
  • Purple Coneflower- late blooming, provides seeds that are an important food source
  • Goldenrod- Leave it be! Read more about the benefits of goldenrod to many species in our former blog here. 

One of the best things about goldfinches is that we never have to say goodbye! They weather the seasons alongside us and are a welcomed constant for many, bringing their bright colours and bright songs into our lives and our yards. 



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