Goldfinches: Mating Habits, Nesting & Eggs

american goldfinch
Goldfinches lay between one to two broods per season, and they typically start mating later in the season compared to other songbirds. Their eggs are a white to blueish-white in color, with occasional brown speckling. Goldfinch eggs are incubated for approximately two weeks before hatching. 

Have you ever wondered where the bright yellow goldfinch makes its nest? It may be closer than you think. While other songbirds nest high in the treetops, goldfinches prefer open areas closer to the ground.

Goldfinches breed between July and August as they wait for the perfect nesting material to bloom. Nests are built solely by the female goldfinch and are composed of things like dandelions, milkweed, plant fibers, and other downy materials. Goldfinches will raise up tp two broods over the course of their breeding season.

Goldfinch Eggs

Once the nest is complete, female goldfinches lay between two to seven eggs per brood. Since the nesting season starts so late for goldfinches, many only lay one brood of goldfinch eggs per season, while some can raise two to three broods late into September. Goldfinch eggs look very similar to the eggs of the American robin, but they are slightly lighter in color.

Most eggs are white to blue-ish white with brown spots that are very subtle. During incubation, the female goldfinch spends most of her time on the nest while the male brings her food. Goldfinch egg incubation lasts up to two weeks, and newly hatched eggs spend an additional 17 days in the nest while both parents feed them.

goldfinch eggs

Goldfinches and Nesting Boxes

Unfortunately, Goldfinches don’t use nesting boxes or birdhouses. They are very particular about where they build their nests, and they will not likely use a pre-made nesting box. If you want to attract the beautiful bright yellow goldfinches to your backyard space, there are a few easy-going tips to keep in mind.

  • Using Birdfeeders – To attract goldfinches, opt for finch-friendly feeders that are bright and colorful and stocked with their favorite food. Nyjer seeds (or thistle) are one of their favorite seeds, and they don’t need to compete with sparrows for a seat at the bird feeders.
  • Planting Native Plants – Another great way to attract goldfinches to nest in your backyard is by planting native plants like thistle and milkweed. Since goldfinches wait to nest until these plants bloom, planting these finch-friendly plants is a great way to draw these wild birds to your backyard.

Goldfinches Nesting Behaviors

The primary reason that goldfinches wait so long in the season to begin mating is that they wait until the perfect nesting materials come into bloom. Female goldfinches build their nests primarily from thistle blooms, spider silk, and other soft downy materials that bloom later in the growing season. Thistle is not only the perfect nesting material, but it’s also one of their primary food sources that they feed nestlings.

Goldfinch nests are tiny. They measure three inches in length and stand up to 4.5 inches tall. When a female has selected a mate, she begins building her nest alone. Instead of opting for the thick branches in a forest, Goldfinches make their nesting in more open areas in the shrubbery. Look down instead of up if you are hunting for a Goldfinch nest!

Once a location is selected, it takes a female goldfinch around six days to build her nest. Goldfinch nests are very tightly packed and expertly constructed. They are so tight that many can even hold water! During a rain storm, female goldfinches have to use their body to shield eggs and nestlings from the rain to prevent water from pooling inside of the nest.

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Tightly packed goldfinch nest with captured snow.

Nestlings

During nesting and incubation, the female carries the bulk of responsibilities. However, both parents feed the tiny baby birds once the eggs hatch. Nestlings will remain in their nest for up to 17 days while living on a diet of primary thistle, milkweed, and other seeds. Goldfinches are strict seed eaters, unlike other wild birds, and only feed their young seeds (rather than protein-rich insects).

As the young wild birds grow, the female goldfinch takes a less active role in feeding and caring for her young brood. When nestlings are ready to leave the nest and transition into fledglings, the male takes over the responsibility of feeding the young birds.

Mating Habits

Unlike other backyard birds, the American Goldfinch or Spinus tristis, breeding season starts in late summer. While other songbirds often begin nesting early in spring, around March, the Goldfinch breeding season is much later. They start courtship rituals in June and often build their first nest until July.

The male Goldfinch doesn’t just rely on his song to attract a mate. If you hear their classic po-ta-to-chip call, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a mating call. Often, loud songs are a way to warn other Goldfinches to stay away from their territory. When courting potential females, their call is much quieter, and it’s used in conjunction with a vibrant display of feathers, as well as chasing down a potential female mate.

The Unique Diet of Goldfinches

The American Goldfinch is unique because they live off a strict diet of seeds and don’t even feed young birds protein-rich bugs. Their strict bug-free diet helps them fight off the parasitic cowbirds. Cowbirds notoriously lay their eggs in the nests of other wild birds and leave parental responsibilities to other birds. While cowbirds sometimes lay their eggs in the nest of goldfinches, their strict bug-free diet means that the orphaned baby cowbird won’t get enough nutrients to survive.

One of the primary reasons goldfinches wait so long into the breeding season to mate is that they must wait until later in the growing season for seeds to feed their young. They live off a diet rich in thistle, sunflower seeds, alder, and seed heads of native plants. Since many goldfinches don’t migrate, keeping goldfinch-friendly birdfeeders in your backyard year-round is a great idea.

Tara Summerville

Tara Summerville is a freelance writer that loves her backyard birdfeeders. She enjoys sitting on her deck with a cup of coffee, watching cardinals, blue jays, finches, and chickadees munch away at her backyard offerings. Her fascination with birds began as a child; spending afternoons at her grandma's house watching and identifying birds. She has since carried her love of songbirds into adulthood and ensures no bird in her yard goes hungry!

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