The majority of a goldfinch’s diet consists of insects, which the bird must forage for either high up in trees or low in shrubs and weeds.
Seeds, particularly those from the daisy family, are the primary food source for American Goldfinches. Trees, even those with seeds in cones, can be harvested. Bark from young branches is consumed along with their buds. Some people even eat maple sap and bugs in the summer. Feeders will attract goldfinches.
What kind of food do American Goldfinches eat will help you determine what kinds of birds are visiting your backyard flowers.
The American Goldfinch is easily distinguished from other birds thanks to its bright yellow plumage and unique black markings.
Because of their strict seed-based diet, American Goldfinches will only consume the immature or ripe fruit of flowers. Even weed and grass seeds can be at their disposal.
Just as seeds are hidden in cones or buds before they open up into flowers or leaves, so too are they buried in the ground.
The Goldfinch, amazingly, may occasionally forage in a tree for the bark of a young limb.
The American goldfinches are in a hurry to harvest the seeds from this immature, yet green sunflower.
The maple sap that Goldfinches take from the bleeding trees has a similar sweet and sticky consistency, which I think you can appreciate.
While insects don’t make up a significant part of an American Goldfinch’s diet, it doesn’t mean the bird won’t consume them if it comes across them while foraging for seeds.
Commonly found in backyard bird feeders are sunflower and thistle seeds, both of which the goldfinches love.
During breeding season, goldfinches typically shift their diet to include more protein-rich natural foods and less plant seeds.
Mostly the daisy flower family
This photograph was taken in Durham, North Carolina, United States, and shows a male Goldfinch in his summer plumage poised on the seed of a coneflower.
No worries about American Goldfinches going hungry in the wild, as they primarily eat plants in the daisy family.
A variety of flowers that are collectively known as daisies can form the basis of such a bouquet.
The aster, composite, and sunflower families are all popular names for the same group of plants, which are ubiquitous in the United States.
Sunflowers and thistles are the most common flowers associated with American Goldfinches and you, but other flowers that are attractive to these birds include lettuce, chrysanthemums, asters, dandelions, goldenrod, coneflowers, artichokes, dahlias, marigolds, zinnias, chamomile, chicory, sage, tarragon, ragweed, sagebrush, and yarrow.
This fully blooming Hyssop flower provides a tasty meal for a goldfinch, proving that the species will eat the seeds of any flower.
Although Goldfinches may appear like an unlikely bird species to be seen eating lettuce, they really eat the seeds more than the actual lettuce leaves.
Goldfinches feed on daisies for a while in the spring, but eventually they switch to other seeds or insects more common in the winter.
Seeds of trees
There is a time limit on the number of daisies that American Goldfinches will eat when the weather gets nicer, and they will switch to eating other, more frequently available foods.
Goldfinches, in addition to eating daisies if they are there, will also eat the seeds of trees such as elm, birch, and alder, all of which they will find in their native habitat.
Tree seeds aren’t found where you might expect them to be—on the ground—but rather, the Goldfinch looks for them in the trident-shaped bracts of cones that grow from the ends of tree branches.
Unlike other birds, American Goldfinches don’t eat the ground, so you’ll most often see them foraging on trees, bushes, and other vegetation.
People commonly gather cones in bags or baskets from the ground, where they have fallen after being eaten by birds.
Buds, bark or twigs
Feeding exclusively on the bark of young trees and visible bud growth on the stem of a vascular plant is another common behavior of goldfinches.
Birds that consume buds while they are still attached to the stem do so because the buds have lignified tissues that transmit water and minerals throughout the plant.
Flowers, leaves, and new branches can all develop from buds.
There’s no way to tell for sure what this Goldfinch is looking for, but it could be the bark of a new twig or, more likely, buds.
Young tree bark is delicious to goldfinches, but older bark isn’t good enough for them to eat.
Instead of biting off small chunks of bark from the young, delicate twigs, the birds now peck deeper into the flesh.
Relatable maple sap
The weather can work miracles on trees in the early spring or late winter, causing maple sap to begin pouring from them.
Of course, maple trees are great for goldfinches, but this time of year is especially beneficial.
Only American Goldfinches receive all that maple syrup for free, but we humans will use the raw sap once it’s been treated and pour it over our pancakes and pastries.
Maple, if found by a Goldfinch, provides nutritional benefits in the form of minerals and hydration by providing 97.5 percent water.
Warning: do not tempt wild birds with table sugar outside the safety of your own backyard.
While the sugar content is beneficial for Goldfinches, be wary — offering the raw maple sap by spreading it on tree bark might attract pests and insects.
Rarely insects in summer
There is a chance that natural decline or habitat alteration will reduce the availability of seed suitable for goldfinches throughout the summer months.
However, the summer is the only time of year when Goldfinches can start the process of converting to an insect diet, as insects are so abundant in trees and shrubs.
Spiders, beetles, butterflies, and crickets are all examples of insects; however, flying insects like bees are impossible to catch in flight but are fair game if captured on the ground.
Goldfinches may subsist on insects for long stretches of the summer, but seeds are still a major part of their diet.
While it is unusual for American Goldfinches to consume insects, when they do so, they benefit from a protein-rich meal.
Eats seeds at feeders
Do not be fooled into thinking that Goldfinches would flock to any old bird feeder, such peanut or suet feeders, if you put out food for them.
Although Goldfinches will eat from any type of seed feeder, including those that hang from the ceiling, are netted, have hoppers or are perched on platforms, it is best to provide them with food in feeders that have perches.
However, if there is no natural water source, American Goldfinches will have little trouble rehydrating in a bird bath.
The American Goldfinch likes to eat thistle and sunflower seeds, but may eat other types of seeds if offered the choice.
In particular, Goldfinches favor these seeds, so be sure to keep a good supply in your feeders.
Sunflower and thistle seeds, as well as nyjer seeds, are great wild bird food to put in bird feeders to attract goldfinches.
Natural food sources for American Goldfinches include thistle and sunflower seeds, so providing them would be well received.
Young Goldfinches fed on seeds
The juvenile American Goldfinch will be fed largely regurgitated seeds from its mother, though this will vary depending on the time of year and the type of food the mother is currently eating.
It might also consist of things like insects and feed from the feeder.
The American Goldfinch is one of the few backyard birds that can regurgitate its food, which it uses to save for when it must feed its young at a later time.
However, as a general rule, baby birds will consume whatever their mom is consuming.
When the time comes for the young birds to leave the nest, the adults will bring them food in the form of seeds to eat at bird feeders.
Parents may return to their nests with food that poses a choking threat to their young American Goldfinches.
The young of the American Goldfinch rely almost entirely on seed food for their nutrition.
Although sunflower and thistle seeds are more commonly thought of as edible, many other flower seeds, such as those from hyssops, dandelions, goldenrod, coneflowers, artichokes, dahlias, marigolds, zinnias, chamomile, chicory, and many others, are also edible.
Besides sunflower seeds, American goldfinches also eat elm, birch, and alder seeds, albeit in much lesser quantities and typically from higher in the tree, such as in cones.
A goldfinch’s diet may also include the bark of newly developed branches.
Goldfinches find maple sap to be the most delicious food on the few occasions when the weather forces trees to secrete this sweet liquid.
While eating insects is possible, it’s not very common, summer is prime time for munching on spiders and other bugs.
We bird watchers are lucky enough to appreciate the bright yellow plumage of the American Goldfinch, therefore providing for them is essential.
Spread thistle, nyjer, or sunflower seeds in a bird feeder designed for them, or use a universal seed feeder, scatter seeds over your yard, or set up a platform feeder.
Parenting When feeding their offspring, goldfinches will largely regurgitate seeds.