During the winter, the goldfinch (Spinus tristis) is frequently found at local bird feeders.
While their winter plumage is less showy than the bright yellow sported by males during breeding season, the males are attractive little birds and may migrate through the Panhandle in great numbers.
The American goldfinch is gregarious during the non-breeding season, when it is often found in large flocks, usually with other finches. Flocks generally fly in an undulating pattern, creating a wave-shaped path.
The American goldfinch is not aggressive toward predators within its territory; its only reaction is alarm calling. Predators include snakes, squirrels, and blue jays, which may destroy eggs or kill young. Hawks and cats pose a threat to both young and adults. Goldfinches are occasionally victims of brood parasites, particularly brown-headed cowbirds. One study found that nine percent of nests had cowbird eggs in them.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the species is one of the strictest vegetarians in the bird world. Its main diet consists of the seeds from a wide variety of annual plants, often those of weeds grasses and trees, such as thistle, teasel, dandelion, ragweed, mullein, cosmos, sunflower and coneflower. However, it also consumes tree buds, maple sap, and berries. It will eat at bird feeders provided by humans, particularly in the winter months, preferring Niger seed, sometimes called thistle. It will occasionally eat insects, which are also fed to its young to provide protein.
Unlike some finch species, the American goldfinch uses its feet extensively in feeding. It frequently hangs from seed heads while feeding in order to reach the seeds more easily.
The courtship rituals of the American goldfinch include aerial maneuvers and singing by males, who begin courtship in late July.
The nest is built in late summer by the female in the branches of a deciduous shrub or tree at a height of up to 33 feet. The nest building lasts approximately six days. The male frequently flies with the female as she collects nesting materials, and though he may carry some materials back to the nest, he leaves its construction to her. The outer shell of the nest is built of bark, weeds, vines, and grass. The inside diameter of the finished nest is about three inches. The rim is reinforced with bark bound by spider webs and caterpillar silk, and the cup is lined with plant down from milkweed, thistle, or cattail. The nest is so tightly woven that it can hold water, and it is possible for nestlings to drown following a rainstorm if the parents do not cover the nest.
American goldfinches lay four to six bluish-white eggs, oval in shape. Two or three pairs may group their territories together in a loose colony, perhaps to aid in defense against predators.
The goldfinch is not threatened by human activity, and is widespread throughout its range. The clearing of forests by humans, though harmful to many species, has benefited the goldfinch. Clearing of woodlands causes declines in numbers of long distance migrants, while favoring the American goldfinch both as a short-distance migrant, and because the created open areas are the preferred environment of the bird, where weeds thrive which produce the primary food source of the goldfinch
This handsome little finch is the state bird of New Jersey, Iowa, and Washington.
In art and Christian legend, the goldfinch is symbolic of the resurrection. According to one legend, the bird was a witness to Christ carrying the cross and tried to pluck the crown of thorns from his head.