How to Attract Goldfinches to Your Backyard Feeder

Updated on May 2, 2019
EricDockett profile image

Eric is an amateur birder and photographer who is amazed by the natural world just about every day.

American Goldfinch males are bright-yellow summer visitors to your backyard.
American Goldfinch males are bright-yellow summer visitors to your backyard.

Attracting the American Goldfinch

The American Goldfinch is a small, bright-yellow songbird native to much of the United States and Canada. They are vocal, vibrant and quirky, and their song and appearance makes them easy to distinguish from the rest of the birds in your yard.

These guys are truly among my favorite birds, and the backyard always seems a little brighter when they come around. If you live in the Northeastern United States like I do, you will have the opportunity to observe the American Goldfinch all year long, but in other areas of the continent, they migrate south for the winter. Some birds spend the cold months as far south as Mexico, and others their summers as far north as the mid-reaches of Canada.

If you are within their range and put out a bird feeder, you ought to see this sunny visitor come by quite frequently. If not, there may be some things you can do to increase your chances of attracting them to your yard.

Making your yard into a bird habitat means you have a much better chance of convincing these little guys to come around. By choosing the right birdseed, bird feeder and even by planting certain natural food sources and vegetation, you can greatly increase your odds of visits.

In this article, you will learn a few American Goldfinch facts such as how to recognize the male and female. You'll also find out some of the things you can do to bring them around to your place more often. Once they see your backyard as a friendly place to visit they will return again and again.

In addition to the blues, reds and purples of other bird species, it is nice to have a little yellow to add to your backyard palette. Let's take a closer look at these little guys.

A Male at Tube Feeder
A Male at Tube Feeder

Feeders and Diet

Goldfinches prefer seeds as a large percentage of their diet (as opposed to insects and other live sources), so the backyard birder should not have a hard time encouraging these colorful little guys to come around.

Choosing the right feeder can give you a big advantage if you want to see more Goldfinches on your property. They will visit any standard feeder if you put out a good-quality seed blend. If you are trying to attract a wide array of songbirds you needn't do any more than this to bring these birds as well.

However, be aware that, as relatively small birds, they can be intimidated by larger species. Whlile they will happily mingle with Black-capped Chickadees, Titmice and Chipping Sparrows, bigger birds such as Blue Jays may keep them away.

For this reason, many backyard birders prefer to have separate feeders for large and small birds, or even a feeder specifically for finches.

Lunch at a Sunflower Feeder
Lunch at a Sunflower Feeder

Special Goldfinch Feeders and Seed Socks

Though they will love sunflower seeds, there are a couple of items you could consider putting out which they will enjoy even more. Nyjer seed and thistle seed (not the same thing, but sometimes marketed as such) can be added to a thistle feeder, but many birders use a special thistle seed sock. The birds hang from the seed socks and extract the tiny seeds from between the fibers of the sock.

There are also feeders especially made for finches. Usually stocked with Nyer, they are too small for large, aggressive birds. This gives the American Goldfinch its own special corner of your yard, and putting up such a feeder greatly enhances your chances of seeing them around.

If you don't wish to stock special food, consider a small tube feeder in addition to your standard feeder. It is important to choose a tube feeder with small perches where large birds like Blue Jays, Red-winged Blackbirds and similar big, aggressive species can't feed.

Kaytee Finch Feeder
Kaytee Finch Feeder

Specialized finch feeders can increase your chances of attracting the American Goldfinch to your yard. These feeders let you present their favorite food in a way that mimics how they would extract seeds in the wild.

Flock of American Goldfinch
Flock of American Goldfinch

How to Attract with Natural Vegetation

In addition to the snacks they'll enjoy at your bird feeder, Goldfinches are attracted to several natural plants, especially in the late summer and fall. Sunflowers provide a wealth of seeds for these and other small birds, and they'll often pluck the seeds right from the flower head.

The American Goldfinch harvests thistle seeds in the late summer and early autumn, pulling the wispy seeds out like they're unraveling a string from an old sweater.

Placing these plants around your yard, or on the perimeter of your yard, encourages these little yellow birds to come around. Along with your bird feeder, they can turn your property into their perfect hangout.

Harvesting Thistle in Late Summer
Harvesting Thistle in Late Summer

Behavior and Song

American Goldfinch sometimes flock, and seeing a group together at any time other than the late-summer breeding period is not unusual. This makes for some interesting visits when a cluster of tiny sunshine-colored birds descends on your backyard feeders.

Though skittish around humans and large birds, they are not shy about coming to feeders and generally tolerate the presence of other birds of similar size. They will also enjoy birdbaths if you present them.

The Goldfinch song is as unique as its appearance, a string of almost robotic chips and whistles. When first approaching a new food source they may flit around the perimeter of the item, chattering away as though trying to muster the courage to dive in. They also chatter in flight, and you’ll often hear a group approaching before you see them.

American Goldfinch Female
American Goldfinch Female

Identifying Male and Female American Goldfinch

A breeding male is easily distinguished in the summer months by his bright-yellow body with sharp black wings and back cap atop his head. This is the bird everyone thinks of when talking about the American Goldfinch, but in fact they only make a up a percentage of all birds.

Females have a subdued light-brown appearance with hints of yellow, and lack the black cap. Juveniles, too, are much duller in appearance, and show a brown, earthier coloring.

But in the fall all Goldfinches molt and shed their yellows for a duller olive/brown color, making males and females tougher to distinguish in the winter months.

American Goldfinch Harvesting Thistle Seeds
American Goldfinch Harvesting Thistle Seeds

Your Yard as American Goldfinch Habitat

Goldfinches will enjoy well-thought-out backyard bird habitats, but in particular they are attracted to fields and meadows where they can find the thistle, dandelion, ragweed and other natural plants they love.

If you live in an area where you are able to allow a small area of your yard to go to meadow you’ll see more coming around, and more finding their way to your feeders. Also consider planting sunflowers.

Like all birds, these guys keep coming back to places where they find what they need and feel safe. Researchers say birdfeeders are helpful to wild birds, especially ones who stick out the winter months like the American Goldfich.

Good luck attracting the American Goldfinch to your yard. Songbirds brighten our backyards and enrich our lives. As vibrant as sunshine, the American Goldfinch does its part by adding the yellows. If you can provide what it wants and needs it will soon see your yard as one of its favorite places.

Goldfinch Poll

How often does the American Goldfinch visit your yard?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Eric Dockett


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    • EricDockett profile imageAUTHOR

      Eric Dockett 

      7 months ago from USA

      @Teri - Perhaps you have some neighbors who put out feeders in the summer months and the Goldfinches are going there. They will also find more natural foods when the weather gets better.

    • profile image

      Terri Hommel 

      7 months ago

      I see Goldfinches at my feeder in the winter, but as soon as the males turn yellow, they disappear. I can't figure out why.

    • Grant's World profile image

      Grant Handford 

      2 years ago from Canada

      These are cute little fellas. We get these and I have seen an orange looking finch around as well. Orange one might not be a finch I just assumed it was a relative of the Gold finch.

    • EricDockett profile imageAUTHOR

      Eric Dockett 

      4 years ago from USA

      Thanks Vic! I never noticed these little guys either until I started to have an interest in birds. I was so excited a few years back when I saw the first Goldfinch come to my yard. Now they mob the place every day!

    • Vic Dillinger profile image

      Vic Dillinger 

      4 years ago

      I had never seen these finches until I moved to my current location a few years ago. They are truly strunning and intersdting ot watch. We have a couple of mating pairs that have our backyard as part of their "territory". I enjoy watching them.

      I set mine up with a feeder in the back yard I keep filled with thistle seeds; the front yard has sunflowers growing in it for them and others to eat.

      You did a good job here with the writing and layout. Keep up the good work!


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