Article and photos by: Evan Glynn
The American goldfinch is a beautiful common feeder bird that lives throughout the majority of the US. The male’s bright yellow breeding plumage is unmistakable, and their buzzing, warbling, twittering, squeaky vocalizations are frequently heard in neighborhoods and on roadsides. After the breeding season, they molt their bright yellow feathers and become more drab and pale before molting back into their breeding plumage in the spring. In Maine, we have them year-round.
American goldfinches are small birds with short, conical bills. They have notched tails and black wings with white wing markings. Breeding males are bright yellow with black foreheads. Breeding females are duller yellow overall and appear more olive. Nonbreeding males are a drab brownish overall but maintain a similar wing pattern.
These birds are seed eaters. They live in shrubby, more open areas where seed-bearing plants are plentiful. They eat thistle, sunflower seeds, asters, grasses, tree seeds, etc. They will frequently visit seed feeders with nyjer and sunflower seeds.
They might be most easily recognized by their call which is often given in flight. They give a descending “ti-di-di” call at an even cadence. In flight, their pattern is also fairly diagnostic. American goldfinches have a bouncy, undulating, rollercoaster-like flight. They give a short burst of wing beats, then fold their wings in to coast. While many small finches have a similar flight pattern, observing this flight pattern while hearing the “ti-di-di” calls should help you identify an American goldfinch even if you can’t observe the bright yellow plumage.
American goldfinches will feed from a number of different feeders. Practically any feeder with seeds will suffice; platform, tube, hanging, nyjer etc. Meaties (a 70% hulled sunflower seed) and nyjer seeds will work best.