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American Goldfinch

Spinus tristis

Length: 5 inches Wingspan: 9 inches Seasonality: Summer / All Seasons
ID Keys: Summer male distinctive, with black tail, wings and forehead on yellow body.  More muted colors in winter.

American Goldfinch - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinches are a common sight at residential bird feeders in the United States, and are well known for their "per-chickory" calls.  They are the only finch species that molt their feathers twice in a year. Males begin molting to their bright yellow breeding plumage in early spring, and even the females become brighter and more colorful for the summer breeding season. Both males and females are much less colorful during the winter months.  American Goldfinch are also unusual in that they nest very late compared to most migratory songbirds, typically not starting to nest until mid-summer.  The delay in summer nesting is thought to coincide with availability of seeds on which American Goldfinch depend, particularly milkweed and thistle.


 Roadsides, residential areas, brushy fields, forest edges, and orchards. In general, they like shrubby and weedy areas with plenty of seeds for eating, but with some trees or shrubs for nesting.


Mostly seeds.  Also buds, sap, and only on extremely rare situations, insects.


Often forages in small flocks, clambering and climbing over vegetation and seed heads.  During the start of the breeding season, males can be seen giving a flight display, singing while they fly.


July and August.  The nest of an American Goldfinch is a small cup built of grasses and other plant fibers, spider webs, and downy material from thistles and other plants.  The female lays between 3 and 7 eggs, and she alone incubates them.  When the eggs hatch, both parents help to feed the young.  The young leave the nest after about 2 weeks.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click to access an interactive eBird map of American Goldfinch sightings


The song of an American Goldfinch is a variable jumble of warbles and trill notes. 


Irregular resident in the winter, with large numbers staying one year and very few the next. In our yard in Brandon, South Dakota, we do typically have some around all year long.

Similar Species:

Lesser Goldfinch, Lawrence's Goldfinch. Plumage and bill differences make it possible to easily distinguish between the species. In breeding plumage, American Goldfinches are the only goldfinch species with an orange bill.  Females are generally more difficult to differentiate for the three species, but the white undertail coverts of a female contrast with the yellow of a Lesser Goldfinch, while the Lawrence's Goldfinch has yellow wing bars instead of the white on an American and Lesser Goldfinch.  Click here for a page that describes the differences between American, Lesser, and Lawrence's Goldfinch.

Lesser Goldfinch 6 - Spinus psaltria Lesser Goldfinch 9 - Spinus psaltria Lawrence's Goldfinch 1 - Spinus lawrencei Lawrence's Goldfinch 5 - Spinus lawrencei
Lesser Goldfinch (male) Lesser Goldfinch (female) Lawrence's Goldfinch (male) Lawrence's Goldfinch (male)

Conservation Status:

Widespread and common, with local fluctuations in populations but no widespread trend.  American Goldfinch are found across a very broad geographic area, and are common on many parts of that range. The IUCN lists the American Goldfinch as a species of "Least Concern".

Bird Feeders:

 Will attend feeders for thistle (niger) and sunflower seeds.

Further Information:

Photo Information:

 April 23rd, 2004 -- Brandon, South Dakota -- Terry L. Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution American Goldfinch photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher resolution view
American Goldfinch - Species Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common summer resident and migrant statewide.  Common winter resident in the south, much less common in the northern part of the state.

Additional American Goldfinch Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
American Goldfinch 1 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 2 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 3 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 4 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 5 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 6 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 7 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 8 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 9 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 10 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 11 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 12 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 13 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 14 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 15 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 16 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 17 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 18 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 19 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 20 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 21 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 22 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 23 - Spinus tristisAmerican Goldfinch 24 - Spinus tristis