Feeding the American Goldfinch

Formerly known as the common goldfinch, the American goldfinch (Spinus Tristis) is seen in large numbers throughout the United States. Unlike hummingbirds, which are live solitary lives, the American goldfinch live in flocks that can grow to be as large as 100. Males change color with the season, taking on bright colors during breeding times that make them interesting subjects for bird watchers of all ages.

Attracting the American Goldfinch
American goldfinches not only live together, but feed together. It's not uncommon to see them feed in groups ranging from 20 to 30 birds. Chances are good that goldfinches will visit your yard once they've discovered your feeder, but you see more of them more often if you're planting for finches by adding thistle, sunflowers, cosmos, hemlock and zinnias to your garden.

These birds are also attracted to elm and alder trees, especially if the trees are near water. Goldfinches are monogamous when they mate and tend to build their nests high up where tree branches fork.

Placing one or more birdbaths throughout your yard is almost guaranteed to increase visits from goldfinches; they often appear to bathe more than anything else. Avid bird watchers have been known to invest in heated birdbaths that keep water from freezing during winter, ensuring their finch friends' comfort.

Backyard American Goldfinch Feeders
Thistle, which is also called nyjer, is the food goldfinches love best. If you choose to feed them thistle, you'll need a special thistle feeder. These feeders are designed to dispense thistle and feature small perches above the feeding ports to discourage larger birds from scavenging.

Commercial goldfinch feeders are most often tube-shaped and the tiny holes, or feeding ports, are designed to keep larger birds from eating the seed. Often called thistle feeders, look for models that feature vertical perches that allow the birds to lean in to feed (goldfinches naturally feed upside down in the wild). Goldfinches will also visit window trays or bid tables where you can feed them millet, canary seed or sunflower seeds.

If you have a feeder with horizontal perches and are having issues with larger birds at the feeder, you can shorten the perches or remove them altogether. One of the downsides to feeding goldfinches is that the thistle mix that attracts them costs up to three times more than regular bird seed. Avoid thistle socks and other mesh feeders-you can lose up to one-third of the contents when it falls to the ground while the birds are feeding.

You can also fashion your own thistle feeder using an empty, two-liter plastic soda bottle. Use a nail or other sharp tool to punch holes into the bottle, taking care to space them properly. Punch the first two hole directly opposite each other, approximately three inches above the bottom of the bottle; move up one half inch and punch another two holes directly opposite each other. Six inches above this second set of holes, you'll punch your third set of two holes; finally, one half inch above those, you'll punch the final two holes. For each pair of holes-four total-you'll insert a ¼" x 6" wooden dowel to serve as a perch.

Above each perch, carefully cut a tiny slit in the bottle, approximately 1/8" tall. Your goal is to give the goldfinches easy access to thistle, without losing excess through the slits. Fill the bottle with thistle mix, screw the cap on tightly and hang the feeder 4 to 5 feet in the air and at least 10 to 15 feet away from any other bird feeders and water sources in your yard.

Feeding Finches
The American goldfinch's diet consists almost entirely of seeds. Unlike other birds, they don't feed their nestlings insects, but partially digested seed. While thistle or nyjer is their favorite, goldfinches also enjoy black oil sunflower seeds, millet, canary seeds and nutmeats. It's not uncommon to see finches visit all the feeders you have in your yard. If you find you're spending too much on thistle seed, don't worry about changing to sunflower or other seeds-the finches will continue to feed.

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