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American goldfinch

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American goldfinch
Scientific Classification
Binomial Name

Carduelis tristis


Spinus tristis


The American Goldfinch is a species of finch known by the scientific name Carduelis tristis. They are very brightly colored birds that are seen all around the United States of America and sometimes referred to as the canary. Its beautiful song sends different messages to the other finches.


American Goldfinch at feeder.

The American Goldfinch sometimes is called a canary because of its bright colors. It's quite small ranking from 4 ½ inches to 5 inches long. Females are much duller than males and are camouflaged with these duller colors. Females are gray with black wings, white wing bars, a notched tail, and a stubby bill. The males are bright yellow with a white behind, black forehead, and black wings and tail with white edges. In the winter though the males are more dull than in other seasons.[1] When in flight it often chirps with each dip of undulating fight.[2]

Crest, axillaries, retrices, nape, mantle, scapulars, and wing coverts are some unusual names of the birds anatomy. The crest is the comb or tuft on a birds head which is raised or lowered depending on the birds mood. The axillaries are the birds armpits which usually are unnoticeable on most birds excluding a few one of which is the robin. The retrices are the birds tail feathers, but not just any tail feathers, only the stronger ones that help direct the birds flight. The singular form of retrices is rectrix which comes from the Latin word oar used to mean rower. If you watch a bird fly you can see if rowing through the sky. The nape is the back of the birds neck and the mantle is the “cloak” or feathers on the back of the bird. The scapulars of the bird derive from the Latin word scapula which among humans it is the shoulder blade. For birds though it is the feathers that cover the top of the wings while the bird is resting. Flight feathers are another name for wing coverts which are an important part of the birds wing which provide contouring so that air flows smoothly while in flight.[3]


The American Goldfinch usually breeds from about April to mid June. But before this bird can breed it needs a nest, and a place for this nest. They usually build their nests in high weeds, trees, and even shrubs often located near water. The nest they build is strong and well-built usually containing wood, spider webs, catkins, cotton, and strips of bark. While the female is incubating 4 to 6 eggs, the male will feed her. The eggs are blue to greenish blue, smooth, and slightly glossy. The baby bird will stay in the nest for up to ten to seventeen days and is watched and cared for by both parents.[4] The American Goldfinch is such a good nest builder that unless the Female doesn’t spread her wings to cover the nest while its raining it could fill up with water. The female makes the nest with spiders silk. The American Goldfinch is the only bird in the finch family that sheds all of its feathers at breeding time and another time of the year. Even though the American Goldfinch is monogamous, the female may leave the nest early to look for a new mate to start another brood.[5] When nesting is over all of the goldfinches will come together and fill the air with their beautiful song.[6]



The American Goldfinch is actually a very common bird seen in the United States it is usually seen in suburban gardens, farms, and in parks. They mostly live in shrubby areas, and open, mixed species forests.[7] American Goldfinches can be found also pretty much wherever there is a good supply of their favorite food is thistle seed but they also enjoy seeds from alders, birches, conifer trees. They also eat asters, burdock, dandelion, chicory, garden seeds, and also goldenrod seeds.[8] An American Goldfinch usually eats mostly seeds, but it will also eat maple syrup, tree buds, and insects. They eat actively climbing around in trees and shrubs to find their food. When an American Goldfinch forages it forages in groups. This bird is usually seen from Canada all the way through the United States all the way to Northern Mexico.[9] When the temperatures get colder the bird will migrate to the south to a more moderate climate. You can find them in Mexico and Florida in the winter. They rarely stay the winter in interior parts of the United States.[10] Lots of birdwatchers will say that the American Goldfinch is fun to watch. The American Goldfinch is also the state bird of Iowa, New Jersey, and Washington.[11] An interesting fact about the American Goldfinch is that right before a storm it puts on weight and starts eating in a panicky fashion.[12]

Relations to Humans

This songbird is attracted to our backyards with planters containing Nyjer thistle seed or by plants and grasses like zinnias, cosmos, bee balm, or globe thistle which produces seeds liked by these finches. The American Goldfinch is not threatened at all by human activity and can actually benefit from our feeders and things. When we clear forests we are hurting some animals but actually helping out the American Goldfinch. Clearing of these forest dampens the numbers of neo-tropical migrants, but favors short-distance migrants and permanent residents. This is because when there are no trees it opens up growing space for weeds, ferns, and such providing necessary food for the American Goldfinch.[13]