Am Goldfinches in their winter garb

American Goldfinches, so brightly colored during warmer months, change into rather drag garb for winter.   National Geographic has a very good webpage with drawings that show well the various plumages of this species. They are so unlike their bright summer plumage that some people do not recognize them. I have seen a number of posts on internet sites asking what they are while others wonder where their ‘yellow goldfinches’ have migrated.

Though they are only present in Canada and very northern parts of the U.S. during their summer breeding season and only during the winter in some mostly southern states, they are found year-round in much of the U.S. These American Goldfinch are very popular feeder birds in many areas.

American Goldfinch are almost exclusively seed eaters and they strongly prefer nyjer (often called thistle) and sunflower seeds. The bird in the photo above is clinging to a nyjer feeder in my backyard in Colorado last week. Their sharp nails allow them to cling to these special feeders which is difficult (though not impossible) for many other birds so helps keep this seed for them (and in my yard Dark-eyed Juncos that also have developed a taste for nyjer seed and the skill at clinging to this specific feeder).

I have a sunflower garden where American Goldfinch feed from mid-summer on.  I really enjoy watching them feeding ‘au natural’, picking the seeds from the sunflower heads.  Planting native plants is a great way to help birds and plants like sunflowers also provide nectar in their tiny flowers for pollinators like bees before they become seeds for the birds.  I’ve even watched a few hummingbirds sipping nectar from these sunflower blossoms!  Nature  knows how to maximize the benefits from native plants.


These sweet little birds (only 5″ in length) have very distinctive vocalizations. Birds and Blooms Magazine’s website has a ‘Most Wanted Birds’ webpage about them where you can listen to their calls.

I expect that most of our readers who have nyjer and sunflower seed feeders in their yards have enjoyed visits from American Goldfinch. What is your favorite experience with these pretty little birds?

  1. Joan B. says

    We have a feeder like the one you have pictured. filler with nyjer seed, and it’s totally ignored by goldfinches (and everyone else). We see flocks on our giant sunflowers but they’re at the back of our yard. Our feeder, near our house, shares a post with one for larger birds. Could it be they need to hang in different locations? I don’t know what the problem is.

    Many thanks.

    • says

      Hi Joan,
      Sometimes smaller birds are intimidated by larger birds so avoid feeders near where they feed. And there are many factors in placement of bird feeders that can make them less attractive especially to small birds that have to worry about predators. It is worth a try to move your nyger feeder to the back yard but they may still prefer to feed on your sunflower plants as feeders are just supplements for birds. I enjoy watching goldfinches and other birds feeding on my sunflower plants then put more emphasis on feeders after the sunflowers are spent.

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