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American Goldfinch

Common Name: American Goldfinch.

Scientific Name: Spinus tristis.

What to look for?  The male American goldfinch – and sometimes referred to as the "Wild Canary" – has two seasonal colorations. At the peak of the breeding season (April through mid‐ September), the male can be easily recognized by their unique sunflower yellow color and a jet black spot on the forehead resembling a hood; his wings are black with white wingbars; and his tail feathers are edged in white. During the remaining months, males develop a duller, more greenish-yellow toned plumage. During the summer, the female American Goldfinch has olive‐ yellow body feathers with black wing feathers with two white wing bars; she does not have the black spot on her head. In winter, both sexes are like the female’s summer coloration but with a grayer tint.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Seasonally, you will find American Goldfinch here from spring to fall. They will typically be seen around the shoreline of our ponds where sunflowers and other wetland plants grow.

How big are they? The American Goldfinch is a small bird. Their average length is 4 ½ inches. They have a wingspan of approximately 8 inches. And they weigh in at only 1/2 of an ounce.

What are their flight patterns? The American Goldfinch flies in a bouncy, undulating roller coaster-like motion. This is called "Flap-Bounding" where short bursts of flapping are alternated with intervals in which the wings are folded against the body. And they will call out the notes of their song at each dip as it flies along.

How else do they behave? When it comes to feeding, the American Goldfinch is a true acrobat. Watch as it flies to the Sweet Joe Pye Weed’s purple flowers, clings to the stalks with its agile feet, and carefully extracts the seeds. They can often be seen hanging head down from the top of a large sunflower head or the yellow Tall Coreopsis as these sway in the wind around Carillon Stonegate Pond, deftly pecking out the seeds from below. These birds can eat upside down from a Tall Coreopsis one moment and then eat standing upright the next. This unique dexterity with their foot and bill allows these birds to benefit from food sources which are otherwise not accessible to other birds.

What’s for dinner? The American Goldfinch is the strictest of vegetarians - or more specifically granivorous. The goldfinch primarily feeds on seeds, particularly those of the dandelion, sunflower, thistle, birch and sweet gum. Think sunflower. Think bright yellow. Think American Goldfinch color. These are all connected!

Where do they take up residence? American Goldfinches may be found in open woodlands, weedy fields and open wetlands and floodplains. They prefer a habitat that is open with shrubs, trees and plants – hence, Carillon Stonegate Pond! They are also common in suburbs, parks, farms and backyards.

When and where do they breed and nest? While robins, cardinals, and doves have already raised a brood and may even be starting on a second one in July, American Goldfinches are just starting to nest. The reason? The American Goldfinch uses thistle down, which isn't available until mid-summer, to construct its nest. The nest is located 8 to 20 feet above ground in a shrub or tree.

Where do they migrate? Irregular migration habits. More remain North in winters if there are good food supplies. Peak migration is usually mid-fall and early spring, but some linger south of nesting range into late spring or early summer. They migrate mostly during the day.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, American Goldfinch populations have declined slightly throughout their range over the last several decades. Partners in Flight estimate a global breeding population at 44 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? It is classified into the songbird category, due to its peculiar but distinct style of chirping. They often sing a familiar bright trill that sounds like "per-chik-o-ree" or "ti-dee-dy-dy". This song is delivered in flight and coincides with each undulation of their up and down roller coaster flying pattern. Here is a link to the sounds of the American Goldfinch.

Interesting Facts About the American Goldfinch:

  • American Goldfinch is the state bird of New Jersey, Iowa, and Washington (Illinois is the Cardinal).

  • Male American Goldfinches are known for their brilliant yellow color, which is produced by pigments in the seeds and plant materials of their diet.

  • American Goldfinches are monogamous and breed later in the summer than most other North American birds as they do not nest until June or July.

  • These are the only birds in their family to undergo a complete molting process twice a year; once in late winter, and then in late summer.

  • Goldfinches usually binge on food and gain considerable weight during or prior to a storm (so if you see them binging, start your own preparations for stormy weather!).

  • German immigrants familiar with the Old Word songbirds dubbed the American Goldfinch the "wild canary”.

  • The oldest known American Goldfinch was nearly 11 years old.

For more information on the American Goldfinch and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds and Audubon Society.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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