American GoldfinchSpinus tristis

adult male, breeding
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult male, nonbreeding
Gerard Bailey/VIREO
adult female, breeding
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult male, breeding
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
immature male (1st year)
Rob Curtis/VIREO
adult female, nonbreeding
Nathan Barnes/VIREO
American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch

Family

Description

4 1/2-5" (11-13 cm). Smaller than a sparrow. Breeding male bright yellow with a white rump, black forehead, white edges on black wings and tail, and yellow at bend of wing. Female and winter male duller and grayer with black wings, tail, and white wing bars. Travels in flocks; undulating flight.

Voice

Bright per-chick-o-ree, also rendered as potato-chips, delivered in flight and coinciding with each undulation.

Listen

nasal call variant #1
flock singing in spring
per-tee-tee-tee flight calls
nasal call variant #2
song #2
brief songs (summer territory) #1
song #1
nasal call variant #3
nest alarm calls
song #3
brief songs (summer territory) #2
nasal calls & flight song
chip-pee fledgling call
rapid calling

Habitat

Brushy thickets, weedy grasslands, and nearby trees.

Range

Breeds from southern British Columbia east to Newfoundland and south to California, Utah, southern Colorado, central Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Carolinas. Winters in much of United States.

Discussion

Since this goldfinch's main food is seeds, nesting does not begin until midsummer or late summer, when weed seeds are available. Thus goldfinches remain in flocks until well past the time when other species have formed pairs and are nesting. Because they nest so late, only a single brood is raised each season. They migrate in compact flocks with an erratic, "roller coaster" flight. Studies of their winter migrations from Vancouver, British Columbia, and Washington State have shown that these birds hesitate before flying across water. In one instance, some returned to the mainland. One by one, the whole flock followed suit. Ten minutes later they returned to the waterside, chattering noisily. Many birds then continued on. Those remaining repeatedly took wing only to veer off and again return to land. Finally, a sharp drop in temperature forced the birds to complete their migration.

Nesting

4 or 5 pale blue eggs in a well-made cup of grass, bark strips, and plant down, placed in the upright fork of a small sapling or a shrub.

Similar Species

adult male, Interior West, breeding

Yellow Warbler

4 1/2-5" (11-13 cm). Bright yellow with a light olive green tinge on back. Male has fine rusty streaks on breast. The only largely yellow warbler with yellow spots in the tail (not white).

adult male, breeding

Western Tanager

6-7 1/2" (15-19 cm). Adult male has brilliant red head, bright yellow body, with black back, wings, and tail. 2 wing bars; smaller uppermost bar yellow, lower one white.

adult male

Lawrence's Goldfinch

4-4 1/2" (10-11 cm). Male has black cap and face; pale pink bill; gray nape, cheek, and mantle; yellow breast, lower back, and rump; white undersides and belly. Female lacks black facial markings.

adult male

Pine Siskin

4 1/2-5" (11-13 cm). A dark, streaked finch with notched tail and small patches of yellow in wings and tail.

adult male

Lesser Goldfinch

3 1/2-4" (9-10 cm).

adult male, Eastern

Evening Grosbeak

7 1/2-8 1/2" (19-22 cm). Starling-sized, stocky finch with a very large, pale greenish or yellowish conical bill.

Vireo

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