All That Twitters is Gold


Be as a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.  ~Victor Hugo




With the change in seasons, many birds come and go in my garden.  Spring brings the hummingbirds, robins, orioles and red-winged blackbirds.  In fall the juncos return to signal the snow.  But the birds that live in my garden all 4 seasons are the golden ones; the American goldfinches (Carduelis tristis).

I have always loved their beautiful bright yellow feathers, but never realized they were not bright yellow all year.  Once I built a wildlife DSCN1278wonderland, the goldfinches were frequent visitors.  Now they are permanent residents coming to feast all year on the seed heads of so many native plants.  And because they are daily in the garden, I am able to observe them closely, especially their change in color and antics when feeding.

While they are particular at winter feeders, favoring sunflower and nyjer seed, in my garden they enjoy the seeds from clethra and any plant in the Asteraceae family:  annual and perennial sunflowers, coneflowers and rudbeckias.  They use their conical bills to help loosen the stubborn seed many other birds cannot.

If you have never seen a flock of goldfinches hanging, swaying and swinging from the stems and branches you are missing a humorous sight.  Their acrobatics bring as much joy to me as it does to the birds themselves.  And their flying is also a bit different.  Not smooth, but a bit bouncy as if they are rolling up and over invisible hills in the air.

DSCN2429In the spring, the males begin to get their brilliant yellow feathers and shiny black crowns.  This change signals the warmer weather. Females and all goldfinches in winter are a pale yellow and olive-green color.   When they are molting they look patchy.  Goldfinches change colors twice a year.  Besides spring, they begin to change back to their duller colors in late summer as they are no longer mating.

Goldfinch’s can be found in fields, meadows, roadsides and parks filled with thistle, sunflowers and asters.  Small trees and shrubs are essential for nesting.   Both males and females choose the site for their nest.  The female builds the nest in an open area that is shaded usually high up in a shrub.

Goldfinches raise one brood because they breed so late in July waiting until  downy materialDSCN1988 and seed is available. Goldfinches only eat seed, and are one of the rare birds who feed only seed to their young.  Plenty of seed is available in my garden in mid to late summer, and the goldfinches strip the seed heads leaving the ragged remnants.

Goldfinch nests are unique as the outer part is built of bark, vines, and grass. The inside measures a mere 2-3 inches, and is lined with down of milkweed, cattail and thistle.  They reinforce the rim of the nest with bark and spiderwebs.  The nest is waterproofed, and can hold water unless the parents cover it.  


Here are a few more fun facts:

  • Brown-headed Cowbirds lay many of their eggs in American Goldfinch nests, but the survival rate is low because the cowbird young cannot eat only seed.
  • The goldfinch is the state bird of New Jersey, Iowa, and Washington.
  • Goldfinches don’t like to fly over large bodies of water.
  • Predators include snakes, squirrels, Blue Jays, hawks and cats.
  • DSCN1273As yellow birds are considered lucky, goldfinches can bring you luck and symbolize wealth.
  • The goldfinch was believed to be protection against the plague in medieval times.




Do you have American goldfinches visiting you and your garden?  Do they remain all year?


© 2013, Donna Donabella. All rights reserved. This article is the property of We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    I must add some Clethra to my garden! I never tire reading about birds, especially the Gold Finch. I love their little “whooeet” call. Mine are mysteriously absent right now. Perhaps the pushy gang of House Sparrows has a stronghold. I have yet to see any Juncos, either, even though we have our first snowfall here this morning. The Juncos arrived in Syracuse at my parents house weeks ago but not here. I still have a few straggling Red-winged Black Birds. I miss the Gold Finches but usually have quite a flock come winter. Maybe they have all moved into your beautiful garden! Moving on up and all.

  2. Marilyn says

    Lovely pictures—these little birds have such personality! And so fascinating to learn how the goldfinch “outwits” the cowbirds who lay eggs in her nest.


  1. […] are feeding on all the leftover seed from the native plants we leave up all year.  See how the goldfinches are already changing back to their brighter color.  A sure sign of […]

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