Starting in spring, the upperparts of the male American goldfinch are bright yellow, with black wings, tail, and forehead, and 2 white wing bars and tail spots. The underparts are bright yellow. In the female, the upperparts are greenish yellow, with dark wings and tail; the underparts are pale yellowish. In winter, the male resembles the female, with brownish underparts, blackish wings, and yellowish face. The female in winter is grayer with brownish wings. The song is a long jumble of warbles, whistles, and twitters. Calls include “per-chick-o-ree” and “sueweeet,” often given during their characteristic undulating flight.
Similar species: The short, conical bill of this finch species helps separate it from the many warblers that are yellow.
Habitat and Conservation
Colorful and energetic, the American goldfinch is the state bird of Iowa, New Jersey, and Washington.
Goldfinches entertain snowbound people when they visit backyard feeders. When the males start turning bright yellow, it is a welcome sign of spring.
The survival of American goldfinches is closely linked to thistles and other composite-family flowers: Their breeding time corresponds with the seed availability from those plants, and they use the down from the seeds as nesting material.
Brown-headed cowbirds are a bane to many birds, as they sneakily lay their eggs in the nests of other species, which unwittingly raise aggressive cowbird chicks beside their own. Studies have found that cowbird chicks, however, do not survive in goldfinch nests because of the seeds-only diet that goldfinches provide.