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At a glance

The European goldfinch is a charming little bird that is a familiar sight in gardens. It is a sociable bird, constantly on the move, and can often be seen in flocks when feeding. It has a light, bouncing flight and a delightful twittering call, often singing loudly as it passes overhead. Goldfinches tend to migrate south during the winter although more and more are staying in the UK partly due to the abundance of food in gardens, such as sunflower hearts and niger seed.

Key facts

Scientific name: Carduelis carduelis
Status: Resident breeding species

Breeding pairs: 313,000

Wintering birds: 100,000

Conservation status: Green

Family: Finches

Length: 12 cm
Wingspan: 21 – 25.5 cm
Weight: 14 – 17 g
Typical lifespan: 2 years

What do goldfinches look like?

Adult male goldfinches have brown mantles and white rumps. The upperwing is black with a bright yellow wingbar and white tips to the flight feathers. The tail is black with white patches on the outer rectrices and white tips on the median rectrices. The underparts are white with buff patches on the sides of the breast and flanks.

On the head the face is bright red with black lores and black around the base of the bill. The crown and sides of the head are black and they have white cheeks, ear coverts, nape, and throat.

Goldfinches have a white stout, conical bill, the eyes are dark brown, and the legs and feet are pink.

Female goldfinches are very similar to males but the red on the face does not extend as far behind the eyes as it does in the male, although there is some overlap so can be hard to tell in the field.

Juveniles are duller than adults and lack the face pattern. The mantle is olive-brown streaked with dark grey and the sides of the breast and flanks have grey spots. The head is pale grey with fine black streaks.

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How do goldfinches breed?

Goldfinches begin breeding in early spring. They are monogamous and produce 2 or 3 broods a season. They nest in orchards, parks, and gardens where there are tall, deciduous trees. as well as open woodland and hedgerows. The female builds the nest which is a compact open cup made from moss, roots, grass, lichens, wool, and plant down, lined with fur and feathers. She will sometimes decorate the outside of the nest with flowers.

Goldfinches lay 5-6 smooth, glossy, pale blue eggs with reddish spots and streaks, which are incubated by the female alone for 12-13 days. The male feeds her while she is at the nest. Chicks are partially covered in thick, grey down and are fed by both adults with insects and seeds. The fledge at about 13-18 days after hatching but still depend on their parents for a few more days, and reach sexual maturity at 1 year.

What do goldfinches eat?

Goldfinches eat seeds, insects, dandelions, burdock, and thistles and use their slender, tweezer like bills for extracting seeds from plants and flowers. They will also supplement their diet with insects when feeding their young, Niger seed and sunflower hearts will attract them to gardens where they will swing acrobatically on hanging bird feeders.


Where can I see goldfinches?

Goldfinches inhabit most of the UK although they are less common in upland regions and are most numerous in southern England. Look out for them in areas with scattered bushes and trees, heaths, scrubs, and areas with thistles.

Outside of breeding season they will form nomadic flocks and can often be spotted feeding in fields and on road verges. They will also readily visit gardens in search of food.

What do goldfinches sound like?

Dawid Jablonski/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Goldfinches are symbols of fertility and resurrection and frequently appear in medieval Madonna and Child artwork.

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9 Responses

  1. I was delighted to see a flock of Goldfinches on the wires,fences and trees next to our home. They were feeding on thistles, but I do have feeders with a variety of food for all birds.
    We are most fortunate to have, Wagtails, Swifts, Swallows, Robins, Sparrows, Starlings, Goldfinches, Magpies that visit the garden, two Hawks that circulate above us and a Heron that tries his luck on the lake in front of our house.

  2. I’ve currently got nests in my cherry tree in my garden. Quite shocked to see them nesting there to be honest. Beautiful to watch them come and go feed young and sing. Hope they come back again.

  3. just added new feeders and filled with sunflower seeds. two days later early sunny morning thrilled to have 6 feeding away. the sparrows and thrushes do not deter them but my two blue tits really chase them away ,could it be because the blue tits are showing lots of interest in my new bird box and are protecting their new for ever home? morecambe bay…

    1. I live in New Zealand and they move around in groups of 6 up to 12. Living in Carmarthenshire as a kid it was very rare to see goldfinches.

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