Goldfinches (Spinus tristis) are a beloved and fairly common backyard bird in the eastern United States. They frequent bird feeders and flit around meadows and gardens foraging for seeds, particularly seeds from plants in the Asteraceae family. But where do these little yellow birds nest?
Nesting habits of the American goldfinch differ slightly from those of other species. For instance, goldfinches nest far later in the season than most birds, often not breeding until late June. Their nests are tucked away in shrubs - well-hidden, but generally in a more open area than the nests of other perching birds.
Goldfinch nests can be hard to spot, even if you are on the lookout for one. Knowing where and what to look for will help you train your eye. We will cover all of those details and more in the following article!
American Goldfinch gathering nesting material
Goldfinches typically nest in herbaceous or coniferous shrubs, placing the nest where a few vertical branches join to offer support. They prefer open, new growth habitats rather than dense mature forests.
Nests can be anywhere from a few centimeters to several feet off the ground. In addition, they are often sheltered by vegetation from above but fairly open and exposed underneath.
If you spot one goldfinch nest, there could be more nearby. These birds tend to build nests in small colonies - likely due to an abundance of resources near that site.
Goldfinch nests are cup-shaped and very sturdy. The foundation is built around the twigs that support it. Exterior nest materials often include twigs and strips of bark held together by spider silk. The interior consists of rootlets and plant fibers with the downy lining added to make the nest comfortable.
Goldfinches typically retrieve downy materials from plants in the Asteraceae family, including dandelions and thistle. However, the birds may also use synthetic materials left behind by humans.
An American goldfinch in winter
American goldfinches have a late nesting season compared to other birds. They do not begin breeding until late June, which means peak nesting season isn’t until late July or even August.
The delay could be due to a couple of factors. The goldfinches most likely chose this time of year because their preferred nesting materials are more readily available in mid-summer, as are the seeds these birds feed their young.
Nesting season is relatively short for goldfinches compared to other species. Because these birds do not generally begin breeding until late June, nesting only occurs between July and August.
A month or more may pass between the time nest building begins to when the young leave the nest. A mated pair may have a second brood in a year with ample food availability. In this case, the goldfinches would be nesting for nearly two months.
Male American goldfinch perched
The female goldfinch builds the nest while the male stands watch for predators and rivals. Nest construction can take four to fifteen days, usually depending on the experience level of the female.
The foundation of the nest consists of twigs and strips of bark placed securely in the fork of a limb and held in place by spider silk. Once the exterior is complete, the female uses rootlets and other plant fibers to begin shaping and building up the interior. Lastly, the nest is lined with downy materials, often collected from thistles.
The completed nest typically measures 8 cm in diameter, 7 cm tall on the exterior, and 5 cm in diameter, 3.5 cm tall in the interior.
Baby goldfinches typically leave the nest 11-17 days after hatching. The incubation period for the eggs is 12-14 days. Once the eggs have hatched, the male will bring food for the female to feed the young. In a few days, both parents will take on the role of feeding, but by the time the nestlings are ready to leave, the male has taken over most of this responsibility.
Close up of an American goldfinch
American goldfinches typically have 1-2 broods per season, with clutch sizes ranging from 2-7 eggs. The number of eggs a female will lay depends on her age, food availability, and how late in the season the pair are nesting.
Whether the pair have one or two broods in a year will often be determined by the above factors as well. If the first brood is unsuccessful, the mated pair are likely to nest a second time, as long as it isn’t too late.
It is rare for American goldfinches to nest in the same place in the following years. There are records of these birds reusing a nest for a second brood in the same season; however, this is also unusual.
Goldfinches, like most species, prefer to build new nests to reduce the likelihood of a mite infestation and getting discovered by predators.
These birds will move nest sites during the building process if the current one is deemed unsuitable. Disturbances or lack of protection from the weather are factors that could contribute to a relocation.
American goldfinch eating sunflower seeds during the autumn
Goldfinch eggs are oval and have a pale, bluish-white appearance. They occasionally have faint brown spots at the larger end but are more often solid in color. The eggs range in size from 1.62-1.69 cm in length and 1.22-1.28 cm in width.
American goldfinches are late in-season breeders. The females generally lay the first eggs of the season from mid to late July. The dates often depend on the experience level of the female. A first-time layer is often nesting later than a bird with prior clutches.
Nesting begins to decline in August but can continue into September, especially if a pair has a second brood.
American goldfinch in flight, just taken off
American goldfinches do not use nest boxes or birdhouses. They are particular about where and how their nests are built. These birds prefer nesting in shrubs or saplings in open areas, with ample cover immediately overhead.
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