Bird Lore: American Goldfinch

Photo by LeRoy Van Hee
Photo by LeRoy Van Hee

Washington is one of three states that has embraced the American Goldfinch as its state bird and did so in 1951. Iowa and New Jersey are the other two states. This goldfinch, one of three North American species of goldfinches, is a widely distributed resident across the U.S. It is found in both Western and Eastern Washington.

The American Goldfinch nests relatively late in the season. Nesting is timed with an abundance of seeds such as dandelion, thistles, and others found in weedy fields and roadside brush. In winter this goldfinch forages in alders and other trees. You can attract them to your yard with niger thistle and sunflower seeds. They are more easily seen in some Edmonds neighborhoods than in others.

Nesting activity usually occurs in July and August. The American Goldfinch usually builds its nest in deciduous shrubs or trees. The solid, compact cup of plant fibers and spider webs, lined with plant down, is usually less than 30 feet above ground. The female, which builds it, usually places it in an upright or horizontal fork of the shrub or tree. She is a great builder. It has been noted that these nests as so tight that they can hold water. Our typically drought-like conditions in July and August may be good for reproduction as a nest full of water would not be an aid to incubation.

The male American Goldfinch feeds the female while she incubates her four to six eggs for about two weeks. Both parents feed the nestlings, which leave the nest about two weeks after hatching.

The American Goldfinch is often described as Canary-like, in part because of the color of yellow of the male in summer, as seen in the above photograph. In winter males, females, and immature birds are more plain and the color of putty except for blackish wings and tails, and a yellow wash on their faces. This goldfinch is similar to a chickadee in that it is small, somewhat tame, a bit acrobatic as it hangs from branches, and vocal. You can listen to its song here:

– By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell, author of our new “Bird Lore” feature, manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

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