Attracting American Goldfinches

Last Updated on April 30, 2020 by NWBirdTop

American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch

Would you like to attract American Goldfinches to your bird feeders? They can be a little finicky but it is well worth the effort. As with all birds that will eat at feeders, you need to provide the food they like in a location and environment that works for them.

Goldfinches are regulars in our Maryland yard. With the exception of a couple times a year when they mysteriously disappear for a few days, they are a daily presence. Typically there are over thirty of them flitting around the various feeders, sipping water from the birdbaths or up in the trees from morning to mid-afternoon. But it wasn’t always this way. It took a bit of time and effort to gain their interest and loyalty to the yard.

American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch

Waiting for Goldfinches to Arrive

When I first started trying to attract American Goldfinches, I put up a tube feeder with nyjer seed it in out in the front yard. Not a goldfinch appeared. After waiting patiently for about a week I tried moving the feeder to a different spot. Same thing. I tried moving it again. And again. 

American Goldfinch on Cone Flowers

Convincing Goldfinches to Stay

What actually attracted the very first goldfinch was flowers in my garden. One day I saw a goldfinch nibbling on a zinnia flower. Thrilled, I immediately put up a nyjer-filled sock style feeder on a little sapling tree nearby.

These simple fabric feeders are not great for long-term use. (They  do not protect the seed from getting wet and will deteriorate fairly quickly.) But they do have the advantage of being light-weight and easy to tie up just about anywhere. 

Nyjer Seed Sock Feeder
Nyjer Seed Sock Feeder

This first goldfinch did come back to the garden and found the nyjer seed sock. Goldfinches are flock birds and they lead each other to food sources. So each day additional goldfinches would come, more each day.

A Sock Feeder Trail . . .

I gradually moved a few of these socks like a trail of breadcrumbs across the backyard and around the side of the house to where I had the nyjer-filled tube feeder. Once they finally found the tube feeder and settled in, I could stop using the sock feeders.

Goldfinches have been in the yard ever since. I have so many goldfinches in the yard that I now have four of these feeders filled with nyjer. 

Four Nyjer Tube Feeders on Maple Tree
Four Aspects Quick Clean Nyjer Tube Feeders on Maple Tree

Giving Goldfinches Their Own Space

I have a lot of feeders in my yard. Most are in the back yard and a few more in front. The nyjer feeders are by themselves in the side yard. I like separating these feeders from the rest. It gives these small, less dominant birds an area that is just for them without the competition from larger birds and they seem to like it.

There is a maple tree that grows just a few feet from the house on that side, so I have the four feeders lined up along two branches that parallel the house. I can watch them through the windows on that side but the feeders are close enough that even if they get spooked and bump into a window, they won’t have gained enough speed to be seriously hurt.

There is a large brush pile about thirty feet further out in the yard as well as many tall trees in that direction, so there is cover for them when the Cooper’s Hawk swings through the yard.

Nyjer Seed is a Goldfinch Favorite

Who Eats Nyjer

Nyjer seed, also sometimes called thistle because it resembles thistle seed which they also like, is a favorite of American Goldfinches. It’s a little sliver of a seed in a thin black shell. A lot of birds are completely uninterested in it, so the American Goldfinches, House Finches and very occasional Purple Finches or Pine Siskins are usually the only birds I’ll see on the nyjer feeders. BUT, in the winter, there will be White-Throated Sparrows, Dark-Eyed Juncos and sometimes Song Sparrows and Fox Sparrows poking around under the nyjer feeders and eating spilled seed off the ground.

Pouring Nyjer Seed into a Tube Feeder
Pouring Nyjer Seed into a Tube Feeder

Nyjer MUST be Fresh!

One really important caveat about nyjer seed: It has to be fresh. Look for seed with a shiny black sheen. If looks dull grey, it is drying out and the goldfinches will not be impressed. Some sparrows might still eat it, but the goldfinches will shun it. Find a good source of fresh nyjer even if it costs a little more and only buy enough at a time to last about a month.

For quite awhile, I bought most of my seed in bulk at a local farm supply store EXCEPT for nyjer seed, which I bought in smaller quantities from the local bird store. (I now buy all my seed in bulk at the bird store because the quality is so much better and I go through the seed quickly enough that I can buy it in bulk.)

Spending less for dried up seed that the birds won’t eat is a false economy. If you are in the range of American Goldfinches but are struggling to attract them, try switching to fresher seed.

American Goldfinches Eating Nyjer Seed
American Goldfinches Eating Nyjer Seed

Feeders For Goldfinches

Nyjer Feeders

Nyjer seed is tiny and American Goldfinch beaks are not all that big for a finch, so you want to purchase a feeder designed for both. I use four Aspects Quick Clean Nyjer Tube feeders. I’ve used these feeders for years now. They’ve held up beautifully and are easy to clean.

They are clear tube feeders with tiny slits for access to the seed. It seems impossible that a bird could get the seed out of the slits but they can and the seed stays clean and dry. Squirrels don’t seem to like nyjer so I’ve never had to baffle these feeders (as long as the only seed in them is nyjer.)

American Goldfinches in Woodlink Feeder
American Goldfinches in Woodlink Feeder

Sunflower Heart Feeders

American Goldfinches also like sunflower hearts, especially in the winter when it is cold and in summer when they are raising a family. I offer sunflower hearts in two Squirrel Buster Plus feeders and in two cage feeders. One is a Nuttery Globe feeder and the other is a Woodlink cage feeder.

Goldfinches will eagerly come to all of these feeders as well as platform feeders if there is either Nyjer or sunflower hearts offered there. They sometimes get pushed out of the Squirrel Buster Plus feeders by larger and more dominant birds. But in my yard they only have to share the more protected cage feeders with House Finches and the occasional Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee or Tufted Titmouse. So they usually get plenty of access.

American Goldfinches at One of the Birdbaths
American Goldfinches at One of the Birdbaths

Water, Bugs & More

Like all birds, golfinches also need water. I offer a number of birdbaths all year round. In winter, I heat two of them, one with the addition of a birdbath heater. For the other, I swap out the bowl with a heated bowl

While many backyard birds eat both seeds and insects, American Goldfinches only eat seeds. Cornell Lab of Ornothology’s All About Birds says, “Main types include seeds from composite plants (in the family Asteraceae: sunflowers, thistle, asters, etc.), grasses, and trees such as alder, birch, western red cedar, and elm.”

I see goldfinches poking around in the flowers in the summer as well as into cones way up in the pine trees. Don’t only think about seed you can buy to put into a feeder; also think of what you might plant that they will like.

American Goldfinches Eating Sunflower Hearts at a Hanging Platform Feeder
American Goldfinches Eating Sunflower Hearts at a Hanging Platform Feeder

Offer Food & Water in a Good Spot

So what is the take-away of this story? Attracting particular bird species to your yard comes down to a combination of factors. For American Goldfinches, you need to be within their geographic range. Then offer food they like and water in a setting that offers them nearby cover to flee from predators. Better yet, put the feeder in a location that reduces the competition with other bird species.

Having native plants as an additional food source for them is excellent too and may just be what draws them to your yard in the first place! And sometimes you need a little luck to have a single bird pause in your yard, followed up by quick action on your part to encourage them to stay and bring their friends!

Nancie 

Learn more about American Goldfinches

Check out the American Goldfinch page on All About Birds.

Birdseed & Binoculars: The Goldfinches of Fall

Birdseed & Binoculars: An Oddly Colored American Goldfinch

Learn More About Maryland Birds

See my post on Central Maryland Backyard Birds.


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4 thoughts on “Attracting American Goldfinches

  1. I think everyone should use Perky-Pet 399 to attract goldfinches. This feeder is specifically for feeding thistle to goldfinches. They are the only birds that will hang upside down from the perches to access the seed. It easy to clean and fill.

    1. Hi Juliet,
      Thank you for your input. I must say that I’ve been so happy with the four Aspects feeders I use that I haven’t tried the Perky Pet feeder you suggest. The upside-down feeding ports on the Perky Pet 399 are interesting. Do you find that they keep House Finches from using the feeder so that only goldfinches use it? With a few exceptions, I’ve only had House Finches and American Goldfinches use the Aspects feeder, but I’m ok with House Finches using it. I do like that the Aspects feeder has a metal top which has lasted well but I’m not claiming that it is the only feeder worth using of course. : )
      Good wishes,
      Nancie

        1. Juliet,
          I like House Finches too. I mostly get American Goldfinches and the House Finches on these feeders. Very rarely, a Purple Finch will show up and every few years I’ll see some Pine Siskins on them.
          Nancie

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