By Casey First
The American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis), most commonly known for its picturesque bright yellow plumage, is a favorite backyard bird that resides year-round here in Western North Carolina. In fact, Goldfinches are year-round residents to much of the US, from the Rockies through the Central Plains all the way up through the Northeast into Canada. They breed primarily in the southern parts of Canada.
In the thick of summer, the male Goldfinch shows off the bright yellow colors that can’t be mistaken for another. Over the wintering months, the Goldfinch’s feathers turn to an almost dull olive green.
A frequent visitor to plants like sunflowers and milkweed and to trees like alder and birch, this handsome little songbird is often seen with flocks of Pine Siskins and Redpolls. If you hear a quiet “po-ta-to-chip” sounding call in an even cadence, you know that the Goldfinch is nearby. The male sings rather long and variable songs that fluctuate with series of twitters and warbles.
The American Goldfinch loves to eat thistle and fine sunflower chips at a backyard feeder, and it is not uncommon to see several feeding together, especially over the winter months when natural food is less abundant.
Their habitat is mainly weedy fields or floodplains where thistle is present. They are also seen in more urban areas and at feeders because they are almost exclusively seed eaters. Unlike many other songbirds that nest earlier in the spring and summer, the American Goldfinch does not nest until mid to late summer when thistle and other weeds have gone to seed.
Casey First is owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, located at 946 Merrimon Avenue, Suite 120, in Asheville. Monthly bird events are free and open to the public with no registration required. To learn more, visit NorthAsheville.wbu.com. Stephanie Sipp is a professional nature illustrator and educator who creates joyful images of animals, birds, flowers and places which are celebrated by followers both regionally and online.