Fall American Goldfinches

Last Updated on October 15, 2020 by Nancie

Fall American Goldfinch
Fall American Goldfinch

Fall American Goldfinches are some of the most active birds in my yard. Unless there is a hawk around badgering the flock, they are all over my feeders.

Busy American Goldfinches

American Goldfinches like my yard. It took me a while to entice goldfinches to visit, but once they came, they seemed to have liked the ambiance. They have stayed year round, only leaving for short periods every now and then. They keep busy around the flowers in warmer months, the seed heads in the fall and pine cones up at the top of the pines in cooler months. As flock birds, the yard is usually busy with their activity, checking out everything, from lilac bushes in the spring, zinnias and strawflowers and black-eyed susans in the summer, to lingering flower and weed seeds in the fall.

American Goldfinches at the Nyjer Feeders
American Goldfinches at the Nyjer Feeders

What American Goldfinches Eat

American Goldfinches are seed eaters. Unlike most other song birds, they don’t eat insects. By fall, there tends to be a lot of seeds around in the environment for them to eat, but they also will happily come to feeders.

In my yard, goldfinches like the four Aspects nyjer tube feeders filled with nyjer seed, two Squirrel Buster Plus feeders and four caged Woodlink tube feeders, all filled with sunflower hearts/chips that they also love. (Note: American Goldfinch beaks aren’t designed for thick seed shells, which is one reason the sunflower hearts are popular.) Also see: Which Feeders Attract Which Birds?

Most of the year goldfinches are usually found on and around the nyjer feeders at one end of the house. But come late summer and early fall, they are everywhere, checking into all the feeders, picking up seed scraps under various feeders and endlessly lining up around the edges of the birdbaths. They’ll even sip water from the ant moat on the hummingbird feeders.

An American Goldfinch in the Strawflowers
An American Goldfinch in the Strawflowers

Goldfinches Nest Late

Because American Goldfinches are completely vegetarian and don’t eat insects, they nest late, waiting until late summer or early fall when there are lots of seeds to eat. For the past several weeks, the air has been full of the almost constant be-peep sounds of little goldfinch fledglings constantly quivering their wings and demanding food from a hard-pressed parent. No wonder the feeders are so busy with goldfinches this time of year.

We may be just a little past the real fledgling period now though. I think some of the young birds take a little while to drop the begging habit. Today I watched one sitting next to dad at the feeder, demanding food and then getting it for himself when dad didn’t comply.

Fall Goldfinches: The Young Bird Next to Right is Quivering Wings to Beg Food From the Bird at the Far Right
Young Bird (Next to Right) is Quivering Wings & Peeping to Beg Food From Far Right Bird.

When Goldfinches Dominate Feeders

Most of the year, House Finches are more dominant at feeders and goldfinches give way to them. I suspect that the size difference between the two species makes a difference here, although I do think House Finches tend to bicker more too. (The House Finches do mostly leave the nyjer feeders to the goldfinch flock.)

But this time of year, probably due to sheer numbers and the demands of their young, goldfinches seem to have pride of place. They dominate every feeder that contains a type of seed they like (They don’t go for safflower, nuts or suet so ignore those feeders.)

Fall American Goldfinches Picking up Sunflower Seed Scraps From the Feeder Above Them.
Fall American Goldfinches Picking up Sunflower Seed Scraps From the Feeder Above.

Goldfinch Spring and Fall Molting

Some bird species look the same regardless of time of year. But American Goldfinches have seasonal differences, molting twice each year. During the breeding season, from late winter to mid-summer, males display lovely bright yellow feathers with a crisp black cap and tail and black wings with white bars. The females’ yellow is never as bright. They don’t have the black cap and their wings are not as contrasty as the breeding males.

Fall American Goldfinches: The Male American Goldfinch on the Right is Still Transitioning into Winter Feathers.
Male American Goldfinch on the Right is Still Transitioning into Winter Feathers

But in late summer and early fall, goldfinches begin to take on their winter non-breeding appearance. They turn a more yellowish brown and their wing bars shift from white to light brown. This warm gold/brown outfit is less flashy but quite handsome.

The males in particular switch over from breeding to non-breeding plumage in a patchy kind of way and not on exactly the same schedule. So there are still a few sporting bright gold colors and others that are mostly in their fall suit but with random lingering brighter feathers.

I must admit that in the winter, when I typically have a flock of fifty or more in the yard, I tend to just count them as “American Goldfinches” in eBird rather than try and keep track of the number of males and females. They look so much more similar from a distance in the winter months than they do in the spring and summer.

Fun Little Birds

Goldfinches are fun little birds and it is not hard to see why they are so popular. Their bouncy flights across the yard, social behavior and general inquisitiveness make them fun to watch.

For more on American Goldfinches, check out the All About Birds page on American Goldfinches or Audubon: American Goldfinches

Nancie

An American Goldfinch at the Birdbath
An American Goldfinch at the Birdbath

Learn More About Goldfinches

Birdseed & Binoculars: Attracting American Goldfinches

Birdseed & Binoculars: An Oddly Colored American Goldfinch

Maryland Backyard Birds


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4 thoughts on “Fall American Goldfinches

  1. I love this blog on the birds. You’ve really put a lot of work into sharing your bird watching experience with us. Links provided for more info also. Thank you so much!

  2. Hello there. Did not know that gold finches change color in fall. In late August we had several finches, at some point they disappeared, than only one for the longest time. It would come and go. Today I saw 3 in feeder. I assumed they were females but probably not since you mentioned that especially the males change color. I thought finches stayed together as a flock? I live on pei, canada. Will these few finches stay for winter?

    1. Hi Maria,
      Yes, they are definitely less brightly colored in their non-breeding feathers this time of year. You might check https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Goldfinch/overview to see more pictures of breeding and non-breeding male and female goldfinches. That might help you decide on what you are seeing.

      Their range map for American Goldfinches shows some parts of Prince Edward Island with goldfinches year-round and other parts just during breeding season. You can also check ebird’s map section (https://ebird.org/map) to narrow down whether people tend to see them in your area often in the winter. I think it probably depends on how cold it gets as well as if there is a good winter food supply. (Fresh nyjer seed and sunflower hearts are favorites in my yard.)

      When I first started getting goldfinches in my yard, it started with one bird and then two birds on the next day, then three, etc. Now I get a flock except when hawks are around the feeders. So while they tend to hang out in flocks, it does seem that individuals or small groups will go out foraging too. It seems possible that the group might need to split up to find food at various feeders too.

      Good luck!
      Nancie

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