The American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) is perhaps one of the most iconic backyard birds. There is no mistaking the bright yellow coloration of the males as they dart through a meadow, collecting the seeds of summer wildflowers. They are also frequent visitors to bird feeders. Depending on what region of North America you live in, you may be lucky enough to admire these birds year-round, while they only grace other areas with their presence for half of the year.
Now you are likely wondering whether or not the American goldfinch is migratory?
The short answer is that some American Goldfinches migrate while others choose to stay in one place and are therefore non-migratory. There are regions where the goldfinch will remain year-round depending on weather and food supply.
That said, the American goldfinch is considered to have irregular migratory habits. The same individual or flock may migrate one year, but not the next. Read on to learn more about the migration habitats of the American goldfinch!
A female (left) and male (right) American Goldfinch perched on a branch
The peak migration period for the American goldfinch typically occurs in mid-fall and early spring. However, some will remain south of their nesting range as late as early summer.
This is considered quite late by most migratory bird standards. Their late migration patterns, which in turn lead to a late summer nesting season, could be a way to assure an abundant supply of late-summer seeds for feeding young.
American goldfinches typically migrate southward for winter. Then, return to their northern breeding and nesting grounds in the spring or summer. Depending on the region, though, some may not migrate at all.
The goldfinch has a broad habitat range. It stretches into the southern and central regions of Canada, from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. The birds in these regions typically migrate out of Canada for the winter due to the harsh climates.
Throughout much of the United States, the goldfinch is a common all-season bird. Exceptions include the far southwest and southeast regions. Here, they typically occur only in winter. Some American goldfinches will migrate as far south as the Gulf Coast and into northern Mexico.
Close up of an American Goldfinch in Autumn
How far American goldfinches migrate can vary significantly. Some may not venture farther than just south of the Canadian border, while others will fly to the border of Mexico or beyond.
Not all American goldfinches migrate. It depends largely on the food supply and weather conditions for that year.
Of those that migrate in a given year, the female goldfinch will typically fly further south during the winter than the males, while younger males will remain further north than adult males.
Male American Goldfinch in non-breeding winter plumage
Some American goldfinches do not migrate. When this is the case, the birds likely live in areas where the winters are mild enough and food supplies are abundant.
The popularity of bird feeders in residential areas has allowed birds like the American goldfinch to remain year-round in regions they would have historically migrated from.
Bird feeders provide a steady food supply that would otherwise not exist in colder northern climates, such as the northeast United States or regions of southern Canada. That said, the goldfinch will rarely winter in northern regions where temperatures fall below 0°F.
American Goldfinch feeding on Nyjer seeds on a backyard bird feeder
In winter, the American goldfinch is widespread throughout the United States. It is also found in parts of Canada and northern Mexico. Generally, goldfinches move out of Canada in winter, but some will remain in the southern-most areas or coastal regions - Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Toronto, Manitoba, and Southern British Columbia.
If you are looking for these birds in the United States, they can be found wintering in the Northeast, from Pennsylvania to northern Maine. They are also abundant across Appalachia and the southeast. In addition, they occur throughout much of the midwest, on the west coast, and in the desert southwest. The goldfinch is a less common winter resident across the Dakotas, Nebraska, and the rocky mountain states.
The goldfinches' winter range also reaches Mexico. However, there are fewer records of these birds being found there. Sightings that are reported generally come from the northernmost regions.
A small flock of American Goldfinches at a bird feeder during winter
In summer, the American goldfinch will go back to their breeding and nesting grounds in the farthest north reaches of their territory. This includes southern and central Canada and Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho.
Again, these birds are all-season residents throughout much of the United States. Their summer breeding and nesting regions exclude only the hot and/or humid southeast and southwest. You are most likely to see them zipping through meadows and nesting in low shrubs in the Northeast and across much of the midwest. They are also common summer residents in the Pacific regions of the United States.
American Goldfinch in summer eating sunflower seeds
If your goldfinches seem to have disappeared, there could be a couple of explanations as to why. First, notice if the disappearance aligns with changes in the seasons. Your backyard goldfinches could be migrating, either to warmer winter climates or back to their summer breeding and nesting grounds.
However, if you notice the goldfinches disappearing during the seasons they are usually present, they have potentially found a better food source elsewhere. If you think this could be a contributing factor, try changing your birdseed. Goldfinches enjoy a mix of seeds, including black-oil sunflower seed, nyjer seed, suet, and peanuts. The birds may get bored if you were only offering a single variety of birdseed, or it could have just been a bad batch.
Juvenile American Goldfinch perched on a branch
Goldfinches do stay year-round in some regions of the United States and Canada. They are most likely to be seen all-season in the Northeast, the lower midwest, and western Washington, Oregon, and California.
Goldfinches do not typically migrate from northern Virginia, where winter and summer temperatures are more to their liking. However, they may migrate from regions of southern Virginia where the weather is too warm in the summer.
Goldfinches typically migrate from northern Minnesota because of the harsh winter weather. They may only go as far as southern Minnesota, though. Here the winters tend to be slightly more mild and easy access to bird feeders provides plenty of food supply.
American Goldfinch perched
Most goldfinches do migrate from Canada. Due to harsh winters and temperatures that regularly drop below zero degrees, goldfinches that summer in Canada typically prefer to migrate even just slightly south into the northern United States.
Goldfinches do not hibernate. Those that live in colder regions of Canada and the U.S. will migrate south to warmer climates.
American Goldfinches are year-round residents in Rhode Island, so you should be able to see them all year. However, the most common months to spot them are from April to mid-September.
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