A bright yellow songbird, the American goldfinch is a common sight in most parts of North America.
At about five inches in length, the American goldfinch, a member of the finch family, may be small, but it is hearty enough to make lengthy migrations.
From its unusual vocalization, reliance on thistles, and its nest-building techniques, the American goldfinch is an American favorite.
It is no wonder that the bird is the official state bird of three U.S. states, one on the west coast, one on the east coast, and one in the center of the country.
Here are 12 facts about the popular and perky American goldfinch.
1. The American Goldfinch Sings About Snack Foods
When the American goldfinch chirps out its song, it may make you feel snacky. The vocalization of the bird makes sounds like it is enunciating “po-ta-to-chip”.
That is not the only sound the American goldfinch makes. It can actually produce six distinctive sounds. The American goldfinch is a social bird that uses this call to communicate with the rest of its flock.
2. They Have A Thistle Dependency
To say that thistles are a favorite food of the American goldfinch is an understatement.
The songbird is dependent on this plant as one of its primary food sources, although it does eat other foods, like insects, maple sap, sunflower seeds, and grass.
In fact, Caruelis, the scientific name for the American goldfinch, comes from the Latin word for thistle.
The American goldfinch even utilizes thistle down in their nests. Since the thistle plants don’t release their down until mid-summer, the American goldfinch adapted to breed much later than other songbirds so it can wait until the thistle down is ready.
3. They Are Common From Coast To Coast
The American goldfinch is at home across the continental United States, south into Mexico, and north to about the middle of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
A migratory bird, the American goldfinch is found in northern regions in the summer months and in the southern U.S. states and Mexico in the winter months.
The American goldfinch makes its home from coast to coast. It is no wonder that it is the official state bird of New Jersey in the east, Washington in the west, and Iowa, in the middle of the country.
4. The American Goldfinch Is A Color-Changing Bird
In the summer months, male American goldfinches sport brilliant yellow feathering, with touches of black on their wings and the top of their heads. Females have brown feathers in place of the vibrant feathers of the male.
In the wintertime, the male and female American goldfinches more closely resemble each other.
5. They Are Rare Molting Songbirds
The American goldfinch is unique among wild songbirds in that it molts twice a year. In the spring, these birds experience a complete molt. This is when the male birds grow their summery yellow plumage.
In the fall molt, the American goldfinches replace their lighter summertime feathers with newly grown, denser feathers. Although these features are duller in color, they help keep the birds warm in the cold winter months.
6. Lady American Goldfinches Rule The Roost
Shortly after breeding, the female American goldfinch selects an ideal location for her nest, builds it on her own, and incubates her eggs without help from her mate. The male’s task is to keep her fed while she sits on her eggs.
When the chicks are newly hatched, both the male and female American goldfinch share parenting duties, but this quickly changes.
The female becomes less and less involved with child-rearing. The male remains devoted to the young and provides most of the food for the chicks until they leave the nest when they are around 15 days old.
During this time, the female American goldfinch may leave the male to tend the nest while she mates with another female and starts the process over again.
7. They Fly South For The Winter
When temperatures dip below freezing, the American goldfinch living in northern regions hits the road, heading toward warmer weather. Birds already living in southern regions tend to stay put.
Scientists have banded more than three million American goldfinches so they can track their movement. They learned that some of these birds embark on a thousand-mile journey twice a year in their quest for milder climates.
8. American Goldfinches Are Active When The Sun Is Out
The American goldfinch is most active during the day. It spends its time searching for food on the ground or on plants.
The birds may also pass the time showing off their flying skills. It flies in an up-and-down pattern like a swimmer swimming the butterfly stroke.
9. Human Habitat Altering Has Helped The American Goldfinch
While many wild animals have been negatively impacted by human activity and habitat loss, the American goldfinch isn’t one of them.
This bird makes its home in open areas, like fields and meadows. They will move into places where trees have been cleared away, like parks, green spaces, and residential neighborhoods.
Although American goldfinches prefer open areas, they also like to have some tall weeds, bushes, and a few trees in which to take shelter. Look for them along roads, in orchards, in city parks, at the edges of forests, and in suburban areas.
10. They Are Agile And Acrobatic
In their quest for seeds and insects, the American goldfinch is willing to go out on a limb… literally.
As they climb and perch on weeds and grasses, they will flip themselves upside down to reach the tastiest parts of plants such as thistle, sunflowers, and purple coneflowers.
American goldfinches are common visitors to bird feeders and use the opportunity to show off their acrobatic skills. Don’t be surprised if you see them hanging upside down from your bird feeder.
11. They Are Expert Weavers
Female American goldfinches are accomplished nest weavers. In fact, they can construct nests that are so tightly woven that they will hold water.
Did you know that the American goldfinch will use spider webs to connect their nest to twigs and branches?
You will find most American goldfinch nests in trees or bushes and in locations that are between five and ten feet off the ground. Thistle down is used to line the nests.
12. American Goldfinches Have Some Enemies
American goldfinches sometimes fall victim to predators, including weasels, garter snakes, cats, blue jays, hawks, squirrels, and kestrels.
When a predator is present, the American goldfinch reacts by warning others with an excited alarm call, but it does not show aggression. That makes the birds, as well as their chicks and eggs, easy targets for predators.