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American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)

American Goldfinch

Carduelis tristis

(Order: Passeriformes; Family: Fringillidae)

Male American Goldfinch (photo by: Anna Balthazor)



During the breeding season, male goldfinches molt to a brilliant yellow body with a black crown. The wings and tail are black except for the uppertail and undertail coverts which are bright white. Females look very similar except the yellow body is a duller olive-yellow and they have no black crown. In the nonbreeding season the male loses his black crown and both the male and female plumage dulls to a gray-brown color. American Goldfinches molt twice a year.


Male American Goldfinch (Image from:


Male nonbreeding plumage (Image from:


Female American Goldfinch (Image from:


Natural History:

American Goldfinches form monogamous pairs and breed late in the summer, during the same time thistle and milkweeds bloom. Females lay up to half a dozen eggs and incubate for about two weeks while males provide food. Brown-headed Cowbirds have had little success in parasitizing these finches due to their strict vegetarian diet, which is insufficient nutrition for the Brown-headed Cowbird offspring. The American Goldfinch is a gregarious bird and, outside of the breeding season, is typically found with other finches.



(Image from:



Open woods, disturbed areas with weeds, roadsides and urban areas that provide food (dandelions, nyjer, or sunflower seeds)



Granivore, during nesting American Goldfinches prefer fibrous seeds such as dandelion, thistle and milkweed


Conservation Status:

Least concern


Native Status:

Native to North America



Cornell Lab of Ornithology:





Middleton, Alex L. A.. 1991. Failure of Brown-Headed Cowbird Parasitism in Nests of the American Goldfinch. Journal of Field Ornithology, Vol. 62, No. 2, pp. 200-203

Peterson, Roger Tory. 2008. Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America. First Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, New York.


Submitted by Anna Balthazor, July 2012

Wichita State University
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