Skip to main content

How to Attract Goldfinches to Your Backyard Feeder

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.

Three Ways to Attract More Goldfinches

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 make them easy to distinguish from the rest of the birds in your yard.

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 such as:

  • Choose the right birdseed and bird feeder.
  • Plant natural food sources and vegetation.
  • Make your yard safe for Goldfinches and small birds.

If you plan it right, you can greatly increase your odds of visits. Once Goldfinches 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.

Goldfinch at Tube Feeder

Goldfinch at Tube Feeder

1. Choose the Right Feeder and Seed

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.

What is the best food for Goldfinches?

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.

Goldfinch Feeders

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.

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

2. Plant 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. Two of the most important are:

  • Sunflowers: Sunflower seeds provide a wealth of seeds for these and other small birds, and they'll often pluck the seeds right from the flower head.
  • Wild Thistle: 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 Goldfinch hangout.

What trees and plants do Goldfinches like?

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.

American Goldfinch Harvesting Thistle in Late Summer

American Goldfinch Harvesting Thistle in Late Summer

3. Make Your Feeders Safe for Goldfinches

Goldfinches 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, Goldfinches can be intimidated by larger species. While 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. Consider a small tube feeder or special Goldfinch feeder in addition to your standard feeder, one with small perches where large birds like Blue Jays, Red-winged Blackbirds, and similar big, aggressive species can't feed.

You may also consider installing water features. These can be as elaborate as a fountain, or as simple as a birdbath. Making your yard into a bird habitat means you have a much better chance of convincing Goldfinches to come around.

Goldfinch at a Sunflower Feeder

Goldfinch at a Sunflower Feeder

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 up a percentage of all Goldfinches.

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.

Identifying Goldfinches gets a little harder in the winter. 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.

Do Goldfinches Migrate?

If you live in the Northeastern United States, 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.

American Goldfinch Female

American Goldfinch Female

American Goldfinch 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.

Goldfinch Song

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 Harvesting Thistle Seeds

American Goldfinch Harvesting Thistle Seeds

Your Yard as American Goldfinch Habitat

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

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.

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.


Gary PETTIT on August 06, 2020:

Gold finch will turn down every type of seeds if you plant beets. They love the leaves. My neighbor put out a feeder for them and the goldfinch hardly visits it. The only problem is you have to cover the beets at first to keep them from pecking them out of the ground when they first come up.

Eric Dockett (author) from USA on May 29, 2019:

@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.

Terri Hommel on May 26, 2019:

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 Handford from Canada on July 28, 2017:

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.

Eric Dockett (author) from USA on July 29, 2015:

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 on July 29, 2015:

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!