AMERICAN GOLDFINCH (Spinus tristis)
DESCRIPTION: The American Goldfinch adult male is bright yellow in breeding plumage, with a black cap and forehead. Non-breeding males are similar to females, mostly olive green. Immature males are bright yellow in the summer, but without the black cap and forehead. This goldfinch undergoes two molts every year. (Below are photos of ‘half and half’ American goldfinches at the start of the breeding season.) The conical bill is pinkish-yellow. The legs are pinkish grey. It is about 13 cm (5 inches) long.
NAME: This bird is called ‘American’ in reference to its distribution region, also to distinguish it from the European Goldfinch. The name ‘Goldfinch’ refers to the bright yellow plumage of this finch. The Latin genus name ‘Spinus’ is from Greek and refers to an unknown bird. As for the species name ‘tristis’, it means ‘sad’. However there’s nothing sad in the bird’s color or its musical song. The French name of the bird, Chardonneret’, stems from the fact that it feeds from the seeds of the thistle (‘chardon’ in French).
HABITAT: Open areas with fields, gardens, parks, wherever there are weed seeds and bird feeders.
DIET: This bird is mainly a seed eater but will also consume insects, especially when feeding its young.
NESTING: The nest is built in a tree by the female. It is a tightly woven structure that can retain water, with the risk of drowning of chicks during heavy storms. This goldfinch uses the seed thistle seed silks to line its nest. Around five light blue eggs are laid, which are incubated by the female. The chicks are fed by both parents.
DISTRIBUTION: The breeding range of this goldfinch encompasses most of southern Canada east of the Rockies. It is a year-round resident for most of the USA and the Canadian Maritimes. The birds at the northernmost range migrate south for the winter. Migration areas include the southern USA and parts of Mexico along the Gulf coast.
ON PEI: The American goldfinch is a year-round species on Prince Edward Island, and is very common.
CONSERVATION: The population estimates of this species range in the 45 million. It is not considered at risk.
NOTES: The American goldfinch is a popular species at bird feeders in the winter. This finch has a unique flying pattern, which helps in identification. It ‘makes waves’ (literally) , while at the same time singing during the ascending phase of the wave.
The American goldfinch is the State Bird of Iowa, New Jersey, and Washington.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Pine Siskin (in the winter), Evening Grosbeak (larger)
The video below shows three American goldfinches preening in a dead Dutch honeysuckle. Then toward the end a song sparrow lands in that vine.