Goldfinch: the bird profiles

Hannah
Hannah
Hannah
Hannah

I am particularly interested in garden wildlife which is why I did my Master's degree with a focus on "animal ecology". I am convinced that beneficial insects and wildlife are a sustainable and effective alternative to many of the products we use on our plants. I am also a passionate birdwatcher and rarely go for a walk without my binoculars.

Favourite fruit: kiwi, apple and redcurrant
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Goldfinches are unique and colourful birds that need our help! Here’s everything you should know about the goldfinch.

Goldfinches are unique and colourful birds that need our help! Here’s everything you should know about the goldfinch.
The goldfinch loves thistles [Photo: Ondrej Prosicky/ Shutterstock.com]

Though not to everyone’s taste, for the goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), life is best spent sitting on a prickly thistle looking for seeds. With its long, pointed beak, goldfinches have conquered a food niche. But to find these thistles, goldfinches need open, wild fields and meadows – places that are increasingly under threat from urbanisation. Here, you can find out what’s going on with our colourful native songbird.

Goldfinch: key facts

SizeAbout 12cm
WeightAbout 15g
Breeding seasonMay-August
LifespanApproximately 5 years
HabitatWild meadows, open parks and gardens
Food preferencesPlant and tree seeds, and occasionally insects
ThreatsHabitat loss through urbanisation

How to recognise the goldfinch

Goldfinches are striking garden visitors. They often travel in groups and are seldom quiet. Their plain brown backs and white bellies are at odds with their black and white head, scarlet face and the bright yellow bands that cross their wings. Because of their colourful appearance, goldfinches were frequently kept as pets in the 19th century, which is of course strictly forbidden nowadays.

A goldfinch perches
The goldfinch can be recognised by its striking red face [Photo: colin robert varndell/ Shutterstock.com]

How to recognise a young goldfinch

Young goldfinches are not as showy as their parents. However, they are still easy to spot, even without the black-white-red pattern on their head and face. Fledgling goldfinches have black and white striped wings, bandaged with distinctive yellow bars.

A young goldfinch clings to a thistle with a mature adult
Young goldfinches already have yellow bands on their wings, but their faces aren’t yet red [Photo: Nigel Dowsett/ Shutterstock.com]

How to recognise a goldfinch egg

Goldfinches lay between four and six pale blue eggs per clutch, each around 2 centimetres wide and speckled red-brown. A goldfinch’s nest is made of plant stalks and stems and is carefully padded with feathers and soft thistle hairs.

Six goldfinch eggs lay in a soft nest
Goldfinch eggs have a pale blue colour [Photo: Vishnevskiy Vasily/ Shutterstock.com]

How to tell the difference between male and female goldfinches

At first glance, male and female goldfinches are not very different. However, the females are a little less colourful than the males; their wings and red faces are somewhat duller. While the red face of the male goldfinch extends behind the eye, it reaches only the front half of the eye on the female.

A male goldfinch
The male goldfinch’s face is redder than the female’s [Photo: Tobyphotos/ Shutterstock.com]

What is the perfect habitat for goldfinches?

Goldfinches look for open, structured land. Fields and meadows are perfect, especially those with small hedges and trees. And wild areas are a must. Think perennials, shrubs and other seed-bearing plants that provide the finch with enough food. Even parks and wild gardens will do.

Where do goldfinches build their nests?

Goldfinches build their nests in trees and tall hedges. A goldfinch nest, constructed by the female, is shaped like a bowl and camouflaged with lichen on the outside.

When is the breeding season for goldfinches?

The breeding season for goldfinches is between May and August. During this time, they raise one to three broods. The female incubates the eggs for about 14 days and is supplied with food by her partner. After hatching, the male continues to bring food to the family, mainly in the form of seeds, which the female softens and then feeds to the hatchlings. Young goldfinches leave the nest after about two weeks and then search for food in small groups.

Goldfinch chicks beg for food from a nest
Young goldfinches need a lot of food [Photo: Maghnaoui/ Shutterstock.com]

Where do goldfinches spend winter?

Goldfinches are resident birds in the UK and sociable year-round. If you enjoy birding (or birdwatching), goldfinches are easy to spot, even for a novice! They often feed in groups, together with greenfinches, and are frequently found at feeding stations throughout winter.

What does a goldfinch’s song sound like?

A goldfinch’s song is very lively. In fact, it almost sounds excited, consisting of hectic whistling and trilling verses that are very distinctive.

Help the goldfinch!

With the progressive decline of its natural habitat, the goldfinch is increasingly dependent on man-made environments such as parks and gardens. Unfortunately, such habitats often don’t provide enough nesting sites or food for the goldfinch. Here are some useful tips to help you support the songbird in your garden.

What do goldfinches eat?

Goldfinches feed mainly on the seeds of Asteraceae (this family includes daisies and sunflowers). However, they are also partial to tree seeds and insects, especially as a supplement for their young. If you would like to help them out, consider linseed and thistle seed, as well as sunflower seeds and crushed peanuts in winter. If you want to know more about the food preferences of different garden birds, have a look at our article on making your own bird food.

goldfinch searching for food
Tree seeds are an important food source for goldfinches

Which birdhouses are suitable for goldfinches?

Unfortunately, goldfinches rarely nest in birdhouses. But if you would like to try your luck, reach for a birdhouse with a large, open entrance. These tend to be preferred by birds that normally build their nests outdoors. In any case, goldfinches will generally opt to build their nests in hedges, trees and bushes.

How can I support goldfinches even more?

You can support the goldfinch by leaving parts of your garden wild. That means: doing nothing! If you can tolerate some thistles, you could be rewarded with a colourful garden visitor.

In order to digest seeds properly, plenty of water is also important for goldfinches. In the summer, help out the small birds with a bird bath.

Tip: A simple pot or bowl is just fine as a bird bath. Just be sure to place it out of reach of cats and clean it regularly.

You can also foster bird-friendly garden with careful plant selection. Hedges and shrubs offer nesting options for many garden birds and a wild meadow with native flowering provides a rich food supply.

If you are interested in more information about garden birds, take a look at our profiles of wrens, nuthatches and robins, and get to know more native species in your garden!

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