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How to Attract American Goldfinches

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The social little American goldfinch is a common backyard sight across most of North America, but if you want to attract them more frequently, you'll need to step it up a bit beyond simply putting out thistle feeders. Like many other small songbirds, these feathered beauties require cover and nesting sites in addition to food. Don't worry: additional food, cover and water features can blend right in with your landscape and even make it better.


Although their common name often invokes images of the male's bright yellow coloring, the males show this bright yellow only during the breeding season. Outside of the breeding season, the males share the same coloring as females and juveniles: an olive-brown back with an olive-yellow underbelly. Black stripes and markings are visible on all specimens. They range in length from approximately 4 1/2 inches to just over 5 inches, with a wingspan that can be between 7 1/2 inches to 8 1/2 inches.

Natural Food Selection

American goldfinches feast on a variety of seeds and sometimes take insects. Providing them with a variety of favored plants to choose from may be the first step in getting these sometimes colorful little songbirds to your yard. Consider planting coneflowers, asters and switchgrass throughout your landscape to provide the birds with plenty of seeds. They sometimes like to eat the seeds in pinecones as well. Don't cut the cones down to the ground in autumn, however, as most of the seed heads will be prevalent throughout the beginning of winter.

Cover and Nesting

The natural habitat of the American goldfinch is shrubby edges of grasslands and open areas. They nest and take cover in shrubs, sometimes in evergreens. On occasion they'll also take cover in shade trees, although this is less common than lower-growing shrubs or dense evergreen trees. To attract them to your yard, ensure they have enough cover with dense shrubs, particularly evergreen shrubs such as holly or miniature pines. Ideal nesting sites for these songbirds are in shrubs or semi-dense trees on branches only a few feet off the ground.

Supplemental Food and Water

American goldfinches prefer nyger seed at backyard feeders, commonly sold as thistle. The seed is most often placed in a woven sock that allows the finches to pick out the tiny seeds without spilling them everywhere. A few thistle socks or specialty thistle feeders hung from your trees can help attract these small finches to your yard. In addition, water features such as a bird bath will be attractive to them.