| Species: American
Goldfinches are members of the Fringillidae and are very common
across temperate North America. They have a striking bright yellow
appearance and are the only cardueline finches that attain their
breeding plumage by moulting. In addition, they are among the latest
breeders of all temperate passerines in North America, which may be
linked to their unusual moulting habits. The northern limit of their
breeding range stretches from the south-western portion of
Newfoundland across Canada to western British Columbia. The southern
limit extends from the coast of North Carolina across the United
States to North California. American Goldfinches shift southward
during the winter season, although their breeding and wintering
ranges overlap. The northern limit of their winter range extends
from southern Nova Scotia, across eastern Canada and the northern
United States to southern British Columbia. The southern limit
reaches from Florida to Mexico and then extends westward to
American Goldfinches are relatively small birds with conical bills
and notched tails. Adults measure about 13 cm long and weigh about
During the breeding season males appear bright yellow with black
caps, black wings, yellow shoulder patches and white bars, white
uppertail/undertail coverts, black and white tail. During the
non-breeding season, males are brownish/greyish and may have black
During the breeding season, females are yellow-brown with white
undertail coverts. Females lack black cap and yellow shoulder patch.
During the non-breeding season, the colours of the females are
Juveniles have a brownish appearance with cinnamon buff wing
markings and rump.
Female American Goldfinches are distinguished from Lesser
Goldfinches by their white undertail coverts. Evening Grosbeaks are
distinguished from American Goldfinches by their large pale bills
and yellow foreheads.
Although American Goldfinches often avoid settling the ground,
occasionally they can be seen hopping along the ground surface. They
will often engage in water bathing and presumably in sun and dust
bathing. American Goldfinches are social birds and are often
observed in the company of others.
American Goldfinches can be found in a range of open habitats
including orchards, overgrown fields, roadsides, hedgerows, river
flood plains and second growth forests.
Goldfinches feed throughout the day and perch while feeding on small
seeds of plants and trees. During the non-breeding season, they are
often observed feeding in large flocks and may be accompanied by
chickadees, redpolls and sparrows.
The main cause of nest failure and mortality during breeding season
is predation; however, mortality during the winter season is much
higher and is usually related to the physiological state of the
birds. Prolonged and frequent winter storms may decrease food
availability, increase physiological stress and lead to starvation.
The maximum lifespan for American Goldfinches is approximately 11
years, although males usually live longer than females.
Typical clutch size for American Goldfinches is 5 eggs per nest but
is related to female age. Older females usually lay larger clutches
and raise more young than do less experienced females. Depending on
habitat type, nest success ranges from 31 to 66 percent.
Status: (Least Concern)
introduction of new predators such as cats, American Goldfinches
appear to have benefitted from European settlement. The introduction
of agriculture has increased the amount of available nesting habitat
and food availability in breeding and winter seasons. The Breeding
Bird Survey of Canada indicates that despite their high abundance,
populations have decreased in central and eastern Canada
(1981-1995). Similar results are reported by the Breeding Bird
Survey of the United States who observed declines in most western
states; declines may be due to conversion of farmland and the
expansion of urban centers. Given their large abundance and
distribution, American Goldfinches are not under threat; however,
they have responded positively to restoration efforts of savannah
habitats in Midwestern United States.
Capture rates of American Goldfinch (2010-2012; standardized
as birds captured per 100 net hours) peak in spring
(April-May) and early fall (August). American Goldfinch move
south in winter to regions where the minimum temperature
remains above 0 degree Fahrenheit, as suggested by our zero
capture rates between November – February.