Species Profile - American Goldfinch
What makes the American Goldfinch such a popular bird in the Houston area? Maybe it's the way they flock to feeders and feed together. Maybe it's their high-pitched calls. Maybe it's their unique plumage with the muted yellow and black-and-white wing pattern. Whatever it is about the goldfinch, it is one of the most anticipated migrants to come to the Houston area.
The American Goldfinch is a small bird, about five inches long. The winter plumage is a yellowish-brown to a dull brown. The wings are dark with white wingbars. The tail is short and notched. The goldfinch's winter range is from the Canadian border into Mexico. Goldfinches arrive in the Houston area usually mid-November and will leave early in April. While here, goldfinches eat mainly seeds and very few insects.
Unfortunately in the Houston area, we do not get to see the goldfinch in breeding plumage very often. Usually about the time the males turn the bright yellow with the black cap, they migrate north to breed. The southern limit of the goldfinch's summer range is along a line that runs from mid-Nevada, through Tulsa, OK and covers the northern half of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Nests can be found in a tree, usually from one to thirty feet off the ground. The nest is placed in a branch fork made of vegetation and lined with plant down. Goldfinches will often weave their nest so tightly that it will actually hold water! Spider webs and caterpillar webbing is used to secure the outer rim. Three to seven pale blue or bluish-white eggs are laid. The female incubates the eggs for ten to twelve days. When the chicks hatch, they are altricial (immobile, featherless, eyes closed, dependent on the adults for food.) The young fledge after eleven to seventeen days.
Some interesting facts about the American Goldfinch:
The goldfinch is one of the latest nesting birds in North America. It usually does not start nesting until late June or early July. This is probably timed for the greatest availability of nesting material and seeds for the young.
The change from winter plumage to breeding plumage requires a complete molt. The American Goldfinch is the only member of the finch family in North America to have two molts during the year.
The goldfinch is gregarious throughout the year. In the winter it is found almost exclusively in flocks, sometimes with 200+ birds. In the summer, the flocks are smaller.
The American Goldfinch is mostly monogamous. However, some females will switch mates after the first brood. She will leave the young in the care of the first male and will start another brood with a different male.
It is fairly easy to attract goldfinches to your yard. Have a finch feeder filled with fresh nyjer (often called thistle seed.) Finch feeders come in several varieties from tube-style to cloth mesh bags. It is usually a good idea to separate your finch feeders from your regular birdfeeders as the goldfinches are often timid and will leave when a larger bird comes to the feeder. Put the feeders in the open as much as possible. To help attract the goldfinch's attention, tie a bright yellow ribbon to your feeder. Cut the ribbon about six to eight inches and tie it where the ends can flap in the wind. The general rule with feeding goldfinches is the more perches you provide, the more finches you'll have.
Sources used for this article:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds
The Birder's Handbook by Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin and Darryl Wheye