- Education and Science»
- Life Sciences
The American Goldfinch is not the Same as Other Birds
For the meanings of bird parts which you do not understand in this Hub, see my bird glossary.
If what you want is not in there, please let me know so that I can add it in the glossary.
Male molting in spring
- The American Goldfinch changes from its winter plumage to breeding plumage by a complete molt of its body feathers. It molts in the fall like all of the other species, but it is the only member of its family to also molt in the spring.
- Goldfinches support their young on a seed-based diet. Because of this if a Brown-headed Cowbird happens to lay an egg in the goldfinch nest, the cowbird hatchling will usually die since it cannot be fed its regular food.
- They are one of the latest nesting birds, starting in late June or early July, when most other songbirds are finishing with breeding. Their late timing may be related to the availability of suitable nesting materials and seeds for feeding young.
- Goldfinches do not join other songbirds when mobbing predators.
Which do you like to look at better, the male or the female?
American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)
Being a length of 4.5” - 5”, this bird is the largest of the goldfinch group. Wingspan: When it is in flight the wings spread to 9”. Weight: It definitely weighs more than the other two since it generally weighs 0.46 oz.
The male American Goldfinch is bright yellow on most of its body and the shoulder of its wings. It has a cap, wings and a tail which are black, with wing bars that are white. Viewing from the bottom, it has a rump and underparts which are white. Its bill is pink and conical.
These birds visually show a trace of yellow at any season but of course they are brightest in the spring and early summer.
The male in the winter can have between olive-gray to olive-brown upperparts. The paler parts include the underparts, shoulders and white wing bar. Plus he has a darker bill and also may show black on the forehead plus yellow on the throat and face.
The female has the same black in the wings and the tail, plus the white wing bars, as the male. The rest is duller with an olive back and she lacks the black cap and yellow on the shoulders.
In the winter, she is duller with a buff wing and shoulder bars plus she lacks both black and yellow on the face and head.
The juvenile resembles the winter female but has a yellow wash on the throat and breast.
The immature resembles the female but is browner above.
A regular friend at our thistle-seed feeder’s throughout the year, but mostly in the winter, the American Goldfinch lends color and sound wherever it surfaces. It also likes to come to the feeder which has sunflower seeds – the hearts of the seeds for the softness – and it likes to go to the flowers too. It eats tree seeds such as alder, birch, western red cedar and elm. It also likes to dine on goldenrod, lettuce, dandelions and other plants that have gone to seed for its main foods. Milkweed is one of the other items which they feed their young.
Goldfinches are among the most stringent vegetarians in the bird world, picking a totally vegetable diet and only accidentally swallowing a random insect. Berries are also a small part of their diet.
Its lively song and aerial territorial displays make it especially conspicuous in late spring; however, its propensity for using thistledown in its nests makes it one of the latest songbirds to nest.
A few trees
Goldfinch making nest
The male and female move around together until they come across a possible site in which to place the nest. The female builds the nest, usually in a shrub or sapling in a fairly open setting in preference to a forest interior. The nest is usually placed near the top of a shrub, where two or three vertical branches join; basically shaded by leaves of clusters of needles from above, but often open and visible from below.
The nest is an open cup which is often woven so tightly that it can hold water. It usually takes the female about 6 days to make the nest.
The nest is made of strands from weeds (one of them which is milkweed) and vines, downy filaments from wind-dispersed seeds, such as thistles, bound with caterpillar webbing, placed in a shrub or a small tree 4’ – 20’ above the ground. It is lashed to the platform branches by using spider silk. Since the birds main food is seeds, nesting does not start until mid-summer or late summer, when weed seeds are obtainable. Thus, American Goldfinches remain in flocks until well past the time when other species have paired and nested.
The Cowbird parasite:
The American Goldfinch is regularly parasitized by the Brown-headed Cowbird. The diet of the A. Goldfinch was mentioned above. The goldfinch parents feed their nestlings seeds, and it is because of this that the cowbirds do not survive.
The Brown-headed Cowbird adults would not feed their young a steady diet of seeds which the goldfinch eats. The cowbird adults eat seeds from grasses and weeds with crop grains and also eat insects. One other thing is that their eggs usually hatch before the others so their nestlings get food first, but it does not help them in this situation.
You see, Brown-headed Cowbirds always have 'foster' parents because the eggs are always laid in other birds' nests. The mother lays 'extra' eggs.
Egg laying and hatching:
Eggs: They lay a cluster of 3 – 7 eggs which are a bluish-white.
Incubation: The eggs are watched over for 12 – 14 days.
Fledging: After the eggs hatch, the young are in the nest and cared for 11 – 15 more days, due to the birds being altricial.
Brood: 1 – 2. Due to their late nesting, only a single brood is raised each season.
Their habitats can be in thick groves, dense ranges, marshy areas, weedy grasslands and suburban parks, yards or gardens. They can also be found in floodplains, roadsides, orchards and asters.
It breeds from southern British Columbia and northern Alberta to Newfoundland, south to southern California, Utah, southern Colorado, Nebraska, central Oklahoma, Arkansas and The Carolina's.
The bird normally spends its winters throughout most of its breeding range south to northern Mexico.
Their range is fairly large. It can be found in Canada, the Bahamas, Mexico and the United States.
American Goldfinch song
- American Goldfinch.ogg
Compilation of multiple recordings of goldfinches in Florida and North Carolina
Male A. Goldfinch singing
They have two songs: 1) a long canary-like song, this song is a jumble of long, high and sweet, twittering notes. 2) and a short forceful warble.
Calls include ’swee-yeet’ or ‘tee-yee’ for courtship; ‘beer-bee’ or ‘bay-bee’ if they are threatened; and the well-known ‘per-chick-o-ree’ (or the well-known ’potato-chips’) which is a flight call. There is also a plaintive ’chi-ree’.
Do you want to help save the birds?
Diseases which affect the A. Goldfinch and what we can do:
1) The first one which we will mention is conjunctivitis. Some might say, "Conjunctivitis?!, but that is a House Finch disease." It has always been related to the House Finch, but that is not the only bird which it affects. There are quite a few other birds on the list and the American Goldinch is one of them.
The full name is Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis which became discovered in 1944. The effects of this disease are obvious and a lot of us have seen it. We have seen the House Finch (or even the Purple Finch) with a large, red, puffy eye. This is because the effects that it causes are when an eye becomes red and gets fat. Finally it gets runny and dries up to become brittle on the outside. Sometimes it can reach the highest level and the eye becomes swollen shut and then the poor bird only has one only eye to see with.
How it is passed on: When the infected eye comes into contact with the feeder, it leaves traces of the disease for another bird to pick up. That way another bird may become infected.
Even though the disease was discovered in 1944, the first time that it was seen on H. Finches was not until 1994. I believe that domestic turkeys and chickens had it first. Other birds to be concerned about are the American Goldfinch, Purple Finch - and Evening Grosbeak (which is also a finch).
2) Then there is Salmonellosis which is not always obvious. Salmonellosis' genus is Salmonella. One of the day to day causes of this disease is mortality in birds which eat at feeders. The reason that the symptoms may not be obvious is because birds may be fat or thin, their eyelids may be swollen or they simply might be fluffed up. These seem like normal conditions; but not if these conditions continue unknown for 24/7. Sometimes the birds can be lethargic and easy to approach, so you have to be aware whether this is a normal condition for that particular bird. Some birds may be carriers waiting to spread the disease without showing any symptoms on the outside. These birds are hardest to notice.
The disease is, for the most part, passed on by fecal contamination of food & water from sick birds, but also by bird-to-bird contact. A few of the birds included in onsets of the disease are the American Goldfinch, Pine Siskin and the Common Redpoll.
What we can do to help the birds -
There are more diseases out there, these are only a couple, but we can begin to help by washing our feeders on a regular basis. Make a schedule, say that you clean them every month, and perhaps each time that you see a new bird come to the feeders. If we get a lot of birds then the second part may seem too often. Everyone will not be doing this and some diseases are passed on in other ways, but every little bit helps.
We should also be active in watching our seeds. By that I mean that if they have been sitting in the feeder for too long without any birds coming, then the seeds would probably be getting stale and also collecting insects and germs which would help to contaminate the seeds. When this happens, throw the seeds out and fill the feeders only about a quarter full until you see some bird activity. Then keep an eye on the feeders and only fill them as fast as the seeds go down. (This would also help to save you money.)
At the moment that this was written this bird was at ‘Least Concern’, in 2000 it was ‘Lower Risk’. The American Goldfinch is not involved with meeting instant decrease.
At the moment the populations appear to be stable.
I personally see the range covering a large area and I do not see why this bird should be in danger, but I have not taken a survey on it.
Our only other bright-yellow bird with a black cap and wings is the much larger Evening Grosbeak (which is also a finch).
During breeding, the male goldfinch does deep a loop flight, which is an exaggeration of the normal looping flight of goldfinches, with the ‘perchickoree’ call. This is often done while circling his territory.
The female builds the first nest and may start second nest, while fledging young in the first nest are fed by the male.
In winter, they are found in flocks that wander in search of food. This familiar and common species is often called the “wild canary”. After all, one of their songs sounds like a canary.
They also fly like a roller-coaster.
It is also the state bird of Iowa, New Jersey and Washington. In the first two (Eastern states it is called the "eastern goldfinch" and in the third one it is called the "willow goldfinch". In Wash., schoolchildren chose it in 1951.
© 2013 The Examiner-1