Bird of the Month February 2020

American Goldfinch

Spinus tristis


In springtime, the male American Goldfinch is easy to recognize. His lemon yellow body, black cap and wings, and white rump make him as attractive to humans as to female goldfinches. Female Goldfinches are less obvious. Females and all winter birds are more dull but identifiable by their conical bill; pointed, notched tail; wingbars; and lack of streaking.

Behavior and Habitat

Goldfinches eat seeds almost exclusively. Their habitat will always include lots of seed-producing plants, thistles and other members of the Asteraceae (composites such as sunflower, Balsamroot, etc.) being primary among them.

Because of this food preference, American Goldfinches don’t nest until mid-summer, timing the hatching of their eggs with the ripening of seeds from preferred plants.

They may raise up to seven youngsters in an open-cupped nest. Cowbirds may parasitize the nest with an egg of their own, but the chick seldom survives more than a few days. They can’t tolerate the strict seed diet Goldfinches feed their nestlings.

The American Goldfinch is the only finch that molts its body feathers twice a year. 

Similar Species

In this area, two other species might be confused with the American Goldfinch. The first is the smaller Lesser Goldfinch which lacks the full yellow body of the American Goldfinch. The second is the Evening Grosbeak, a much larger bird with a heavy bill, a yellow eyebrow and white secondary wing feathers.

When and where found at Camas NWR 

According to the Camas NWR Bird List, Goldfinches are uncommon in the wintertime, meaning that they are present but you may not see one on your visit. However, Goldfinches are common backyard birds and are often found visiting feeders filled with sunflower and nyjer seed. Look for them around the pollinator garden feeders and the feeder on the edge of Camas Creek near the headquarters.


“American Goldfinch are numerous, though populations experienced a small decline between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 42 million, with 91% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 33% in Canada, and 6% wintering in Mexico. They rate a 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List.”

Text by Terry Thomas. Source:

Photo by Terry Thomas.