Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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 Species: American Goldfinch Spinus tristis


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 California.


General: American Goldfinches are relatively small birds with conical bills and notched tails. Adults measure about 13 cm long and weigh about 13 grams.

Adult Male: 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 foreheads.

Adult Female: 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 subdued.

Juvenile: Juveniles have a brownish appearance with cinnamon buff wing markings and rump.

Similar Species: 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.

Behaviour: 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.

Habitat: American Goldfinches can be found in a range of open habitats including orchards, overgrown fields, roadsides, hedgerows, river flood plains and second growth forests.


American 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.

Conservation Status: (Least Concern)

Despite the 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

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.

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