Tuesday, May 5, 2020

What do American Goldfinches like to eat?

American Goldfinches are small birds that are widespread across the United States and southern Canada. Summer males are brilliant yellow and black, females a bit less bright. In fall they molt into a dull tan and white plumage.

These birds are found in weedy fields, recently cut and re-growing second growth woodlands, and residential areas.

American Goldfinches are highly attracted to thistles. In your backyard they really love to eat black oil sunflower seeds and Niger seed. If you provide both these seeds in the proper feeders you'll attract American Goldfinches to your backyard and may have them for the entire year if you live in the mid-latitudes of the United States.

This page is a supplement to my overview page on attracting American Goldfinches. When finished here you may want to go back to that overview page to find out other fascinating facts. That page also links to other in-depth articles on American Goldfinches, including range and habitat, courtship and nesting, and identification and similar species. I'll put another link at the end of this article to remind you.

Photo of female American Goldfinch eating thistles
Female American Goldfinch feeding on thistle
Photo by Greg Gillson

Diet and natural food

American Goldfinches are strict vegetarians. Only rarely do they eat insects. In fact, they even feed seeds to their nestlings. Most seed-eating birds feed their nestlings on insects.

Much of the diet consist of thistle and weeds seeds. Some of the plant seeds American Goldfinches eat include aster, burdock, chicory, dandelion, goldenrod, sunflower, and thistle.

Goldfinches also eat some small seeds from trees. The tree seeds they eat include alder, birch, elm and some conifer tree seeds.

Photo of American Goldfinches on Niger seed feeder
American Goldfinches on Niger seed feeder
Photo by Greg Gillson

American Goldfinches at backyard feeders

Foods to attract American Goldfinches

At your backyard feeder there are three foods that American Goldfinches love. They are most attracted to black oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower chips, and Niger seed. [See my article on the favorite foods of backyard birds.]

Because of their larger size and thicker shells, goldfinches don't like striped sunflower seeds quite as much. They are too much work to get open, evidently.

Hulled sunflowers have the outer shell removed. Then they are presented with the kernels (or heart) either whole or broken as "chips." These have the advantage of being "no-mess" or "no waste" bird foods.

Niger seed is a flower seed that is sometimes called "thistle," though it really is not. It is also marketed and trademarked as "Nyjer."

Garden flowers to attract American Goldfinches

Your flower garden can be very attractive to American Goldfinches.

American Goldfinches eat seeds of asters, brown-eyed Susans, coneflowers, coreopsis, cosmos, daisies, marigolds, milkweed, poppies, ragwort, sunflowers, and zinnias. Does this list of flowers give you any good ideas of what flowers you might plant in your yard?

If your vegetable garden goes to seed in the fall goldfinches will eat many weeds seeds that grow up. They like pigweeds and thistles. They even eat the seeds of garden lettuce.

Photo of Monarch Butterfly on Zinnia
Zinnia and Monarch Butterfly
Public domain image from Pixabay

Here is a link to different types of flower seeds you can buy on Amazon to plant in your garden.

Here are sample products of thistle feeder and Niger seed that will attract American Goldfinches like crazy!

What is the best feeder for American Goldfinches?

Niger seed for American Goldfinches needs to be in a special mesh feeder. These can be a metal feeder (often called a "finch feeder"). Or Niger seed can be presented in a nylon "thistle sock." The seeds of this plant are long, light-weight, and thin. They would easily fall out of most feeders. They would blow away from a platform feeder. They also soak up rain water easily. Then they spoil or gum up. So present them in limited amount during the rainy season.

American Goldfinches like to eat black oil sunflower seeds from tube feeders or hopper feeders. Tube feeders restrict the birds to primarily finches, chickadees, and nuthatches. That way larger birds don't come and eat a lot of the more expensive sunflower seeds. On the other hand, sometimes the sunflower seeds get stuck in the tube feeder, depending upon construction or wet weather. You may need to nudge these or clean them out occasionally to keep the seeds flowing.

Sunflower hearts or chips are best fed to goldfinches in a small hopper feeder.

Have you ever seen a thistle sock and how American Goldfinches eat Niger seed from them? Watch this video!

Feeding and foraging behavior

American Goldfinches often feed in flocks, small or large. They descend upon a food source and feed calmly and peaceably. They do startle rather easily sometimes, though. They hop and make short hop-flights as they feed, but often remain fairly still while eating.

Since they often feed on weed seeds they sometimes feed on or quite close to the ground. Like most finches, when they are startled they fly up into nearby trees until they feel safe again.

They often feed at acrobatic angles. In fact, there is a tube feeder for goldfinches called an "upside down feeder." This feeder has the perches above the feeding ports. The goldfinches dangle upside down to reach the seed. This discourages some of the larger backyard birds from getting to the seed.

In summer the flocks break up into pairs. For several weeks, or longer, you may notice that very few goldfinches visit the feeders. In the fall the birds will be back--and they'll bring their young with them!

Photo of American Goldfinch on a bird bath
American Goldfinch
Image by Erica Maxine Price from Pixabay


American Goldfinches drink water and bathe in bird baths. Please notice the photo above and how the bird bath is set up. That bird bath is really too deep for goldfinches to use comfortably. So the owner has placed a perch on it leading down into the water. That piece of wood acts as a staging perch. A staging perch is a place to land and then move closer to the water. If the goldfinch wants a bath he can walk down the stick and into the water. He is thus able to select whatever water depth he wants.

Another thing to notice about the above photo is that there is a small water fountain. Moving water, especially with a dripping sound really attracts birds. Nothing large. This small fountain is just right!

Here is a link to solar bird baths on Amazon. Two things to remember. You want an adjustable flow so it doesn't spray too hard. Just a drip, remember! These also only work in direct sun. Place them so that they receive direct light at dawn. Even then, they may need an hour to charge up and begin working.

Back to the overview page on attracting American Goldfinches to your backyard.


  1. I loved the content of this article. I'll even save it to my favorites to help me build an article I'm going to write and I'll cite your site.

    Very good. I loved.

    1. Thanks Peter!

      And good job on your topic choices!


January 2023: Thank you so much for visiting! I am working on a YouTube channel on birds and bird watching. Check it out here:



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