It’s ironic that the scientific name for the American Goldfinch is Spinus tristiswhich, loosely translated, means “Sad thistle-eater.” After all, few species give bird lovers a case of the giggles quicker than these bubbly little acrobats. (For the record, they got the tristis or “sad” moniker become someone thought their calls sounded mournful.)
American Goldfinches are something of a rarity in the bird world. They only eat and feed their young seeds. (Kind of like aerial vegans.) Therefore, they breed late, waiting for milkweed, thistle and other plants to produce the seeds critical to survival. In fact, it’s quite common to see American Goldfinches still fledging young in early to mid-September. By that time many Baltimore Orioles are already living the sweet sunny life back in their Central American wintering grounds.
American Goldfinches are very common at backyard feeders – it you have the right tools. The best way to draw them in is with a special finch feeder that doles out seeds through tiny holes. As for the food, they enjoy traditional nyjer – a tiny seed imported from Asia. But, as so many of you can attest, they really gobble down BWS Deluxe Finch Mix, which combines nyjer with sunflower chips and millet.
Also, contrary to myth, American Goldfinches don’t migrate from our region in winter and are actually year-round residents as long as food sources are stable. However, the one thing that will soon go: the gaudy yellow and black plumage of males. With mating completed, they’ll molt into dull yellow/ greenish feathers for winter and lose their tell-tale black head cap, making them nearly indistinguishable from females.
But don’t worry. Like our own wardrobes, the males will brighten up again some spring.