Saturday, May 2, 2020

Where do American Goldfinches live?

Throughout most of the middle and northern parts of the United States American Goldfinches can be found year long. However, they do migrate north and south. So their abundance varies throughout the year. They spend the summer also in southern CanadaIn winter they move to the southern reaches of the United States and into eastern Mexico.

In winter American Goldfinches molt into a very dull plumage, so drab compared to the bright colors of the summer breeding male. That makes them less noticeable in winter, unless they are in huge flocks in the weedy fields.

Are there American Goldfinches where you live? Do they stay year-round? I'll try to answer that in the rest of this article.

This page is a supplement to my overview on American Goldfinches. The overview page also leads to other in-depth articles on identification, courtship and nesting, and diet and what to foods attract goldfinches to your yard. I'll link back to the overview page again at the end of this article.

Photo of breeding plumage male American Goldfinch on teasel
American Goldfinch
Photo by Greg Gillson

Range and seasonal movements

American Goldfinches breed across southern Canada and the northern two-thirds of the United States.

There is a resident subspecies in California that does not migrate. Otherwise, American Goldfinches migrate a comparatively short distance. Most of these goldfinches migrate southward out of Canada in winter. They move to the United States, as far south as Florida, the Gulf Coast and the border with Mexico. South of Texas they continue several hundred miles into Mexico.

More details on the range of American Goldfinches follow.

Where do American Goldfinches live in summer?

I will now look at eBird data of actual sightings during June and July the past 5 years (2015-2019). After this I'll present the range for winter.

Summer American Goldfinches in the Northeast United States

American Goldfinches are common summer residents in PennsylvaniaNew JerseyRhode IslandConnecticut, and Massachusetts. They become less common in the forested northern parts of New YorkVermontNew Hampshire, and Maine. American Goldfinches are found in towns along roads through these forested lands.

Summer American Goldfinches in the Southeastern United States

The southern edge of the breeding range of American Goldfinches is in the northern parts of ArkansasMississippiAlabama, and Georgia. They are rare coastally in GeorgiaSouth Carolina, and North Carolina. They are less common in western West Virginia and northern Kentucky.

Summer American Goldfinches in the Midwest United States

In the Midwest, American Goldfinches are common almost throughout. They are a bit less common in northern Michigan and northern Minnesota. Otherwise they are common throughout OhioIndianaWisconsinIllinoisIowa, and Missouri.

These goldfinches are a bit scattered in North Dakota. They are less common in the west portions of South DakotaNebraska, and Kansas.

Summer American Goldfinches in the Rocky Mountains of the United States

In the Rocky Mountain States American Goldfinches tend to be distributed near towns. These are frequently near water and at lower elevations.

They are regular in MontanaIdaho, and Wyoming.

American Goldfinches are nearly absent as breeders in Nevada. In Utah and Colorado, American Goldfinches are regular in lower areas near Salt Lake City and Denver, but rare southward and westward in those states.

Summer American Goldfinches in the Southwestern United States

American Goldfinches reach the southern edge of their breeding range in the Santa Fe, New Mexico and Tulsa, Oklahoma areas. Otherwise, these finches are rare to absent in summer in these states and Arizona and Texas.

Summer American Goldfinches in the Pacific region of the United States

In Washington and Oregon these goldfinches are common.

California has a non-migratory population of American Goldfinches. They are found west of the Sierra-Nevada mountains and southern deserts.

Summer American Goldfinches in Canada

American Goldfinches breed across southern Canada. They summer in southern parts of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland. They are quite common throughout New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia.

This brief video gives a brief overview of American Goldfinches:

Where do American Goldfinches live in winter?

The following sections will detail where American Goldfinches are found in winter. This is based on the most recent 5-years of eBird data from 2015-2019. The data is from the winter months of December to through February.

Winter American Goldfinches in the Northeastern United States

American Goldfinches are found in winter throughout the Northeast. They are found in MaineNew HampshireVermontNew YorkMassachusettsConnecticutRhode IslandPennsylvania, and New York.

Winter American Goldfinches in the Southeastern United States

American Goldfinches winter throughout all of the Southeastern United States. They are found in DelawareMarylandWest VirginiaVirginiaKentuckyNorth CarolinaTennesseeSouth CarolinaGeorgiaFloridaAlabamaMississippiArkansas, and Louisiana.

Winter American Goldfinches in the Midwestern United States

In the Midwest, American Goldfinches winter commonly in OhioIndianaIllinoisMissouriIowa, and Wisconsin. These finches are common in southern Michigan, southern Minnesota. Goldfinches are much less common in North DakotaSouth Dakota, western Nebraska, and western Kansas.

Winter American Goldfinches in the Rocky Mountain region of the United States

American Goldfinches are fairly sparse in winter in Montana, except around Bozeman and Billings. Idaho has quite a few winter goldfinches. Most records in winter in Wyoming are pretty sparse. Most of the records of these goldfinches in Utah are from around Salt Lake City. In Colorado these finches are recorded mostly in Denver and other towns in the eastern part of the state. Nevada has very few records.

Winter American Goldfinches in the Southwestern United States

In Arizona American Goldfinches are mostly restricted to the northcentral and central part of the state, from Flagstaff to Phoenix. Most winter records in New Mexico are from Santa Fe and Albuquerque. These birds are widely distributed in OklahomaTexas has lots of winter goldfinches, though they become sparse in the western thirds of the state.

Winter American Goldfinches in the Pacific region of the United States

American Goldfinches are fairly common in winter in western Washington and Oregon, plus along the Columbia River eastward. These finches are common in California in winter west of the mountains and southern deserts.

Winter American Goldfinches in Canada

Many American Goldfinches move out of Canada in winter. They are found fairly commonly in Nova ScotiaNew Brunswick, and coastal southern Newfoundland. These finches are found in extreme southern Quebec, and they are common only in the Toronto area of Ontario. They are found in winter in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and southern British Columbia. They are nearly absent in other provinces.

Winter American Goldfinches in Mexico

It could be that there aren't many bird watchers in northern Mexico. There are only a few American Goldfinches recorded from Ensenada, Baja California Norte. They are fairly common in Big Bend, Texas, but records stop at the border. There are a few records in Monterrey, Nuevo Leone State.

Migration timing

Northern breeding populations are migratory. Even, so, some northern birds don't move out completely. They may move relatively short distances to nearby weedy fields near open water. Other birds migrate longer distances.

More southern populations are resident.

In spring, American Goldfinches migrate northward in May and June.

In autumn, American Goldfinches migrate southward from October to January.


There are 4 subspecies of American Goldfinches. They are only slightly different in appearance and average measurements. The Great Plains separates the eastern form from the 3 western forms.

The subspecies in California is non-migratory and the breeding plumage often shows some brownish coloration on the back rather than bright lemon yellow.

Photo of male American Goldfinch in sapling
American Goldfinch
Photo by Greg Gillson

The ecology of American Goldfinches

American Goldfinches like habitats of weedy fields with thistle seed for food. They need saplings and scattered small deciduous trees for nesting. They are often found near water, such as stream edges and floodplains.

They also are found along road edges and edges of agricultural fields.

They are quick to take advantage of forest clearcuts and second growth for the first few years when thistles are a common plant. Once conifers and large bushes and grasses crowd out the thistles, they leave.

American Goldfinches in the temperate broadleaf and mixed forest biome

This is the primary overarching biome in the eastern half of the United States. Clearings and fields among the deciduous trees is perfect for these finches.

While their primary food is thistle and plants in the aster family, American Goldfinches also eat the seeds of alder, birch, and elm trees. These also serve as nesting trees.

American Goldfinches in the grassland biome

True grasslands don't have the thistles and other scattered trees that American Goldfinches require. However, the periodically flooded stream bottoms do. Here they will use willows and saplings of larger cottonwoods for nesting.

Trees to plant to attract American Goldfinches

American Goldfinches do occur in residential backyards and grassy parks. You are more likely to have these birds visit your yard if you are bordered by farmlands, vacant fields, or tree-lined streams through a meadow. A recently cut woodlot will be attractive for a couple of years if not developed immediately.

Alder, birch, elm, and willows are trees that will attract American Goldfinches to your backyard.

American Goldfinches may be attracted to your flower garden. Plant asters, cosmos, daisies, marigolds, poppies, sunflowers, and zinnias.

What niche does the American Goldfinch fill?

American Goldfinches eat and disperse seeds of plants in the aster family: thistles and sunflowers. They feed on weed seeds on the ground, often in groups. Many of these seeds are smaller than seeds that other birds eat.

Because their foods are often found in recently disturbed areas, the habitat quickly changes. A weedy field or recently cut forest soon grows up with larger shrubs and then trees. So goldfinches tend to be nomadic in winter. Their breeding sites change every few years with the rapid changes in their favorite habitats.

These beautiful birds are always a joy to see or hear as they fly over. My wife, Marlene, especially loves to see goldfinches at the feeder, though we have primarily Lesser Goldfinches where we live now.

Return to the overview page on American Goldfinches.

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