Bedford Audubon Society

A Northern Westchester & Eastern Putnam Counties, New York
Chapter of the National Audubon Society

Celebrating 98 Years of Conservation 1913-2011


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The American Goldfinch
By Tait Johansson

The American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) is one of our most familiar birds, especially to
those who maintain bird feeders.Male American Goldfinch This common inhabitant of shrubby fields, the edges of woods, and suburban areas is present here in southern New York year-round, often frequenting feeders with sunflower or “nyjer” seeds.

In spring through autumn, the male goldfinch is a strikingly colorful bird. Except for a black cap, wings and tail, a white wing bar and under- and uppertail coverts, the male’s plumage is a bright yellow. The bill, legs and feet are pinkish-orange. The female’s underparts are a dull yellow, the head and back are yellowish brown; the tail is blackish, and the wing has two buffy bars; undertail coverts are white. Her bill, legs and feet are a dull pink. In winter, both sexes have a duller version of the female’s plumage.

The goldfinch’s vocalizations include a piping three to four note call given throughout the year (usually during its undulating flight), often rendered as “potato-chip!” In spring and summer, the male’s song consists of a long series of bouncy, bubbly notes.

The main food is seeds, though insects are sometimes added to the diet. Even the young are primarily fed seeds, especially thistle seeds, which accounts for the fact that this species is one of our latest nesters. Unlike most birds in our area, which typically nest May through June, goldfinches start nesting only in July and continue sometimes into September. This assures a steady supply of the necessary seeds, few of which are ripe earlier in the summer. The down of thistles is also used to line the small, compact nest. One interesting effect of the nestlings’ diet is that, while our local brood parasite, the Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater), will lay its eggs in goldfinch nests to be raised by the parent goldfinches, the young usually die, since young cowbirds need more insect food than goldfinches bring their nestlings.

Photos Courtesy of and Copyright © by Dick Budnik Photography
DickBudnik@verizon.net   http://mysite.verizon.net/DickBudnik

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