Often kept in captivity in the 19th century due to their bright colouring that attracted a great deal of human attention, the goldfinch is thought of as one of Britain’s most attractive wild birds. To find out everything you need to know about goldfinches, as well as how to attract more to your garden, read on.
What Do Goldfinches Look Like?
The goldfinch is a vibrant and uniquely coloured wild bird, making it easy to spot in your garden. It has a black and white head with a red face. The body is buff to chestnut brown, with black and yellow patches on the wings. Males and females are very similar in appearance, with the female having a slightly smaller red patch on its face.
Juveniles have different colouring from adult birds. They have a plain face rather than a red face and a grey body. However, they still have the unmistakable black and yellow wing stripes.
Are There Different Species of Goldfinch?
The European goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis, is a species of bird from the genus Carduelis, part of the finch Fringillidae family. The species is not to be confused with the American goldfinch, which is part of a different genus. There are 12 species of finch which inhabit the UK, including the chaffinch which we will cover further on in this blog series.
There are 14 different subspecies of the European goldfinch. The subspecies found in the British Isles is the C. c. britannica.
Where & When Will I See Goldfinches?
Goldfinches are more abundant to the southern England, although are found throughout the UK aside from parts of the very northern parts of Scotland. The birds can be spotted all year round, however some flocks may migrate south during the colder winter months.
Orchards, gardens and heathlands are just some of the environments goldfinches will inhabit. More generally, they will be present wherever there is rough thistled ground and scattered bushes.
When Do Goldfinches Breed?
Goldfinches breed later than most wild birds; breeding begins in late April and continues until August, but can go on until September if it is still mild. On average, goldfinches attempt 2 or 3 broods, with clutch size spanning from 3 to 7 chicks. Males and females share parenting duties throughout this time.
The male goldfinch attracts a mate by putting on a unique display, involving characteristic mating calls and swaying from side to side. After attracting a mate, nesting will start. The female takes on the role of building the nest, which will usually be sited in a tree or shrub. Nesting materials include grass, mud and roots and the nest will be lined with softer materials such as moss and cobwebs to insulate. The outside of their nest is often adorned with lichen in order to camouflage it from predators.
Eggs are pale blue and lightly speckled. Once laid, they will be continuously incubated for 10 to 14 days by the female. Once hatched, the chicks will be fed regurgitated seeds and plants by both parents. They will fly the nest after about 15 days.
What Do Goldfinches Eat?
Goldfinches mainly feed on seeds, and are especially fond of nyjer. If you want to put out nyjer seeds in your garden, ensure you buy a feeder specially designed for these smaller seeds, as they will fall out of regular seed feeders. Sunflower hearts are also a favourite.
Goldfinches also feed off seeds of small plants, such as dandelions and groundsel. The long, slim shape of their beak also makes them experts at feeding on thistle. Planting teasel, which has an attractive pink flower that is also appealing to bees and butterflies, will provide an extra source of food for goldfinches too.
As they eat mainly seeds, goldfinches need to drink more water than other species of wild birds. Ensure you provide a fresh water source, such as a bird bath or water feature. If you have a cascading waterfall in your garden, don’t be surprised to see goldfinches enthusiastically bathing in it!
Be sure to stay tuned for the next instalment of this series, where we will take a look at starlings. If you missed the last in the series, be sure to check it out, as we examined the collared dove which is a lesser known species of garden bird.
Megan works in the Primrose marketing team. When she is not at her desk you will find her half way up a hill in the Chilterns
or enjoying the latest thriller series on Netflix. Megan also enjoys cooking vegetarian feasts with veggies from her auntie’s vegetable garden.