Do Goldfinches Migrate? (European Goldfinches)

If you’re a fan of goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis), you may wonder where these birds go in the winter? Do they migrate, or do they stay in the UK for winter, get their gloves, hat and scarf on and make do like the rest of us? Well, here is a complete guide to goldfinches and their migrating habits.

The goldfinches in the UK can migrate as far as Spain in the winter. However, not all goldfinches leave the UK in the colder months. So some are residents, whereas others are migrants.

As we will learn, goldfinches have rather strange migrating patterns compared with other birds. And their migrating habits get more and more curious as you find out more.

Goldfinches are known as partial migrants. This means that, while some goldfinches certainly leave the UK for the winter, some are more than happy to stay here. Goldfinches leave the UK for warmer climates in France and Spain, for example.

Goldfinches in the UK are both resident and migratory

Goldfinches in the UK are both resident and migratory

Do goldfinches migrate from the UK?

Yes, goldfinches do migrate from the UK in the winter, but not all of them. If a goldfinch does decide to leave the UK for the winter, they can reach as far as France or Spain.

Interestingly, though, goldfinches don’t have a usual wintering ground. Other birds will return to the same places each winter. Goldfinches, though, simply find food and stay in that location. So, if a goldfinch finds plenty of food in the UK, they will stay here. If they can’t find food, they may go to France or Spain to find it.

When do goldfinches migrate?

Goldfinches will begin leaving the UK for warmer climates in the middle of autumn, and they return in early spring.

Some goldfinches do hang around until early winter, though. As there are fewer goldfinches around, they take advantage of this and eat all the seeds they can find. If goldfinches can find enough food during the early winter months in the UK, they often stay here for the whole winter.

European Goldfinch eating plant seed

European Goldfinch eating plant seed

Where do goldfinches migrate?

If a goldfinch does decide to migrate to find food, they can reach as far as France or Spain. However, it is also likely that a goldfinch will find a food source in the UK and stay there. So, a goldfinch may migrate a few miles down the road or a few hundred miles to the south of France. They don’t have wintering grounds like other birds. Instead, they migrate to anywhere they can find food.

How far do goldfinches migrate?

Goldfinches in the UK may just migrate just a few miles during the winter, but they can travel distances up to 900 miles when migrating to Spain.

Goldfinches don’t have a place where they always go and shelter over winter. They will migrate until they find food. So, they can either migrate a few miles or a few hundred; it depends when they find a good food source.

European goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) drinking in a pond in Huelva, Andalusia, Spain

European goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) drinking in a pond in Huelva, Andalusia, Spain

Do all goldfinches migrate?

No, some goldfinches will stay in the UK all year round and may even be joined by other European goldfinches from colder parts of Europe. While many goldfinches stay in the UK throughout winter, they may still migrate a few miles down the road.

During the winter, goldfinches are always in search of food. So, if the local food dries up, the birds will fly to another area. For some, this could be France or Spain, but for others, this could be a few hundred yards up the road. So, while not every goldfinch will leave the UK and migrate to another country, you could argue that all goldfinches do migrate. In that, most leave their usual home in search of food.

Goldfinch perched on a branch during winter

Goldfinch perched on a branch during winter

Why do some goldfinches not migrate?

Whether a goldfinch migrates or not comes down to whether they can find food locally. If there are plenty of seeds for a goldfinch to eat throughout the winter, they will happily stay in that area all winter long. Many goldfinches have learnt that bird feeders are an excellent winter food source. So, if you have a bird feeder in your garden, make sure you top it up throughout the winter for goldfinches.

If the natural food in one area of the UK dries up for goldfinches, they will happily travel to another part of the UK in search of food during the winter. Goldfinches are heavily focused on food throughout the year, but particularly in the winter. So, wherever there is food, goldfinches will land. And if that is the UK, they will simply stay here and feed.

European Goldfinch perched on a branch, facing forwards

European Goldfinch perched on a branch, facing forwards

Where do goldfinches go in the winter?

If you notice fewer goldfinches in your garden throughout the winter, they may have moved a few miles down the road, or could have travelled as far as Spain for the winter.

Where goldfinches go in the winter depends greatly on where the food sources are. Unlike other birds, goldfinches don’t have a place to call home in the winter in a warmer country. Instead, they go in search of food, and wherever they find it, they call home until the food runs out.

So, goldfinches could stay in your garden all winter if there is a good supply of food. They could travel 10 miles down the food to find food. Or end up in France or Spain for some frog legs or tapas.

Goldfinch perched during the winter

Goldfinch perched during the winter

Where do goldfinches go in summer?

During the summer, goldfinches are trying to recover their energy after the breeding season. This means they are consuming a lot of food. So, if you notice fewer goldfinches in your area than in the spring, this is likely because they have left the area in search of food.

Goldfinches will likely return to your area; they may even be back during the winter. However, once their breeding season is over, they need to get their energy back before autumn and winter. So, if there is a short supply of food, the goldfinches will have to move to find more. During the summer, goldfinches won’t go far, probably only a few miles down the road.

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