American Goldfinches are one of the first “bird blooms” of spring. Against a backdrop of dull colors straining to turn green, the American Goldfinch is the dandelion of birds. It is one of the first birds to change from its dull winter coloration to the bright and beautiful yellow, black, and white that all bird enthusiasts hope to see. For just like the dandelion, the yellow of the American Goldfinch is a sign spring has arrived.
A diet of gold | What do goldfinches eat?
The American Goldfinch has a unique diet, as it is one of only a few species of North American birds that do not eat insects and other arthropods during the nesting season. Instead, these golden birds eat various seeds, made up mostly of aster seeds, including dandelions, sunflowers, Nyjer, and thistle. Additionally, these finches will eat the small seeds of a handful of tree species, including alder, birch, and others. The selection of these small seeds is due to the size of the American Goldfinch bill. This granivorous diet is vital to the flashy colors that all birders recognize and love from the goldfinch.
The yellow coloration in the breeding plumage of the American Goldfinch comes from a diet laden with the pigments known as carotenoids. These pigments are also responsible for orange and red coloration in other common feeder birds (like cardinals) and the pinkish-orange bill in these little feeder finches. The bill coloration may serve a role in mate selection and competition; however, ornithologists are still studying these questions. So, where are these pigments found? Seeds! Nyjer seed, sunflower seed, and other common finch foods contain ample amounts of the pigments necessary for American Goldfinches to turn from a dull yellow in winter to blooms of gold in summer! While food selection alone does not account for the change in coloration in goldfinches, it plays a critical role. Without a diet of sufficient carotenoids, some birds would have a more drab appearance. Though, scientists suggest more than diet can make a goldfinch appear duller.
A heartland of gold (and more) | Range of the American Goldfinch
If you are new to backyard bird feeding, or you are feeding in a new area, you might wonder about attracting the American Goldfinch to your yard or bird feeders. Luckily, the American Goldfinch is found across all lower 48 states in the US and the southern provinces of Canada. When might you see them? It depends! If you live on the Gulf Coast or desert southwest, your best chance to lure an American Goldfinch is during the winter months. If you reside in the middle Atlantic states, the Pacific Northwest, or anywhere in between, you have a good chance to enjoy goldfinches all year. For those in southern Canada, you might only see the American Goldfinch during the summer months, but the birds should be quite the sight by then!
A golden opportunity to attract American Goldfinches
Attracting American Goldfinches is as simple as hanging a Nyer feeder! However, if you want to create a space for goldfinches to spend more time and possibly build a nest, you will need a yard with mature deciduous trees. These trees are critical for protection, roosting, and nesting. More native plants will also be necessary to lure and hold goldfinch attention. Why? More than just the seeds from aster flowers are used! Female American Goldfinches will line the inside of their nests with the pappus of the plant. (Think of the pappus as the fluffy head of a dandelion.) Additionally, goldfinches will use the silk from spiderwebs to help construct a nest with some flexibility. To capitalize on these needs, create a yard full of native aster plants and avoid the use of pesticides. More than goldfinches will appreciate these two steps!
Sitting on a gold mine | Goldfinches of North America
The American Goldfinch is not the only “golden” finch in North America. The western US, down into Mexico, is home to the Lesser Goldfinch. This tiny finch has a solid yellow underside, with an all-black to mostly black upperside on males, while females are drab yellow to greenish-yellow overall. A less obvious goldfinch is the Lawrence’s Goldfinch of California and the desert southwest. This finch is unusual due to its mostly gray body and head. There can be limited yellow coloration in the wings and body, and males have some black on their faces. These are the only two other native goldfinches found in the US and Canada. While their ranges are quite restricted, the extensive range of the American Goldfinch fills all other gaps.
All these goldfinches do glitter
The American Goldfinch is a favorite living yard ornament that can spruce up any home or garden. Drawing the attention of these neon birds is easily accomplished and well worth the effort. Hang a Nyjer feeder, fill it to the top, and sit back and wait for your friendly neighborhood goldfinches!
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