American Goldfinches, with their brilliant yellow feathers and delightful songs, are some of the most recognizable birds in the world. But what fuels these tiny birds? What do they feed on to maintain their vibrant colors and lively chirps? In this article, we’ll delve into the dietary habits of American Goldfinches and discover the variety of foods that sustain these charming creatures in their natural habitats.
From seeds to insects, we’ll explore the secrets of the American Goldfinch’s diet and the unique adaptations that make them such successful foragers. So come along on this journey to uncover the culinary delights of the American Goldfinch’s diet and discover the key to their colorful and lively personalities!
The diet of American Goldfinches in the wild
The American Goldfinches are a migratory North American True Finch species. Their breeding range stretches from southern Canada to the south-eastern United States. Winters are spent across the central United States to Mexico.
American Goldfinches are the only species in their subfamily that undergo a complete molt twice a year. They display strong sexual dimorphism: males have bright-yellow breeding plumage, which turns olive during winter, while females are overall yellowish-brown and slightly brighter in summer.
Regarding their diet, American Goldfinches are primarily granivores, and seeds are their main source of nutrition. They are particularly fond of thistle seeds, also called nyjer seeds. They are also known to consume insects on occasion, but it’s generally accidental.
American Goldfinches are vegetarians; even their hatchlings are raised on mainly regurgitated seeds rather than a rich, insect-based diet like the young ones of most other songbirds.
Keep reading to learn more about American Goldfinches’ seasonal diet and feeding habits!
Did you know that American Goldfinches are the state birds of Iowa, New Jersey, and Washington? Talk about being a favorite!
In the former states, it is referred to as the Eastern Goldfinch, while in Washington, it is called the Willow Goldfinch.
American Goldfinches’ Summer diet
Summer marks the breeding season in birds, and American Goldfinches are no exception to this. They have a highly nutritious diet in summer to help them keep up with mating, nesting, and rearing.
The buds of flowers like daisies, sunflowers, dandelions, chamomile, and dahlia are a big part of their summer diet. They like to eat buds of birch, alder, and other fruit trees, as well as the seedheads of grasses.
Maple sap, fresh fruits, and stripes of tree bark are consumed as rare snacks.
American Goldfinches have been reported to eat a few insects like butterflies, mosquitos, and grasshoppers. However, they don’t seek out those insects intentionally. They accidentally consume them when foraging for food in flower and tree buds.
American Goldfinches’ Winter diet
During winter, flowers are low in supply. American Goldfinches make up for it by foraging for the few seeds still hanging from thistles, sunflowers, asters, and other trees throughout winter.
Backyard and garden feeders are slowly becoming one of their main food sources in winter.
Fun fact: American Goldfinches migrate in large flocks with up to 200 individuals in winter. Other species, like the Black-Capped Chickadees and American Tree Sparrows, often join their party.
What do baby American Goldfinches eat?
American Goldfinches are rather late breeders; their breeding season starts in late July, which is way later than any other Finch or Native American species!
The nest is built by the female and woven tight enough that it can hold water. In fact, sometimes, the nestlings can drown if their parents forget to cover the nest during a rainstorm.
The incubation period lasts 11-14 days, and the female incubates the eggs alone. It’s the male’s duty to bring food for her while she nests. Post-incubation, the female feeds the hatchlings for up to 11-15 days. After the young ones fledge, the male takes over the feeding duty for the next three weeks.
Soon, the fledglings start flying near the nest in short bursts, and the males locate them for feeding with the help of their fledgling call. The juveniles stop giving the call after they become entirely independent.
As far as the baby American Goldfinches’ diet is concerned, it’s quite different from the diet of the young ones of other species. Instead of the classic, high-energy, and high-protein insect diet, baby American Goldfinches are primarily fed regurgitated nyjer, sunflower, and thistle seeds.
If you don’t know what regurgitated seeds are, let us explain.
The feeding parent eats the seeds, brings them back up to their mouths, and transfers them into the young ones’ mouths. They do this because the young chicks can’t digest the raw seeds yet.
American Goldfinches also feed their chicks a few flies and worms for protein, energy, and proper growth. These include maggots, mealworms, moths, caterpillars, and grasshoppers.
Fun fact: Brood parasites, particularly Brown-headed Cowbirds, are common in American Goldfinches’ nests. However, the Brown-headed Cowbird eggs show low hatching rates and no fledgling success in those nests. The main reason behind this is a lack of nutrition; the seed-rich diet of American Goldfinches isn’t suitable for most other species.
How Do American Goldfinches forage for food in the wild?
American Goldfinches are diurnal feeders, which means they forage for food only during the day. They like feeding in large or small flocks and communicating by singing. Their common feeding grounds are meadows, forest clearings, woodland edges, and even roadsides, as long as their favored plants are available.
American Goldfinches are generally calm birds; they hover above their food for a moment before descending upon it slowly and gently. They prefer to forage and feed on trees and plants rather than foraging straight from the ground.
They can also be startled easily. When that happens, they quickly fly into trees and hide there for several minutes before coming out again.
American Goldfinches make great use of their feet in their feeding process. They can hold onto the thin stems of grasses as they eat the seedheads and even hang upside-down in pursuit of seeds. They have the ability to hold onto thin stalks and stems as they extract their food.
Their bills are well adapted to open hard shells and fish out seeds from difficult spots. Once they find the seeds, their mandibles quickly crack open the outer covering easily and consume the fleshy seed within.
Attracting American Goldfinches to your yard: Foods to offer and other things to keep in mind
American Goldfinches are a flash of color in an otherwise dull backyard. If you live somewhere in the central United States, there’s a good chance you can keep these birds in your backyard all year long with a steady food supply!
In this section, we will tell you exactly which food will bring these lovely creatures to your backyard.
As you already know, American Goldfinches are a sucker for seeds, especially nyjer and sunflower seeds.
Here are some less commonly known foods they love:
- Grass seeds
- Flower nectar
- Weeds and grasses such as dandelions, cosmos, lavender, thistle, teasel, ragweed, mullein, and goatsbeard
- Trees like alder, birch, elm, and beech
- Maple sap
- Fruits like apples, pears, and plums
- Insects like termites, maggots, flies, crickets, grasshoppers
If you’re looking for some flowers to plant in your garden or backyard, we have some great suggestions for you!
Asters, coneflowers, daisies, marigolds, poppies, sunflowers, milkweed, ragwort, and coreopsis are all great at attracting American Goldfinches. As a bonus, they’ll also add beauty and a pop of color to your garden.
Now that food is covered, let’s discuss how you should offer these to them. While weeds, grasses, and trees don’t need to be presented, you can make the seeds fun for them.
So, when shopping for bird feeders, look for upside-down feeders. They have their perches above the feeding port, which is how American Goldfinches like to feed. These feeders also discourage most other birds from eating those seeds because it isn’t easy to obtain them without the natural abilities American Goldfinches have.
Natural predators of American Goldfinches in the wild
American Goldfinches are a small and non-aggressive species, so it isn’t surprising that they face many dangers in the wild. Many birds of prey and carnivorous and omnivorous mammals are a threat to American Goldfinches and their young ones.
Adult American Goldfinches commonly fall prey to several raptors, including Sparrow Hawks and Pygmy Owls. They also won’t pass up a chance to eat the hatchlings or eggs.
Wild and domestic cats are equally harmful to them. If you’re setting up a feeder for American Goldfinches in your backyard, remember not to let your cat out during the day.
Blue Jays, squirrels, weasels, and snakes cannot take on an adult American Goldfinch, but they will destroy their eggs and kill the young ones.