European goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) are beautiful birds. A bit red in the face, granted, but beautiful nonetheless. Goldfinches often look a bit stressed and angry, yet, they flutter around our gardens without a care in the world searching for food. But what do goldfinches eat? Well, let’s find out, shall we?
European goldfinches eat mostly seeds. They enjoy small seeds and commonly eat thistle seeds. They are also happy to eat grass seeds and some tree seeds as well. If you’ve just seeded your lawn, you may notice a few extra goldfinches in your garden.
As we’ll see throughout this goldfinch article, they are very picky eaters. To draw goldfinches into your garden, you need to put in some work.
While goldfinches almost exclusively snack on seeds, they do take insects for their young. Insects offer a lot of calories in an easy to carry takeaway for these birds. So, that’s why you can occasionally see a goldfinch or two with an insect in its beak.
Goldfinch perched on a teasel, eating the seeds
Goldfinches rely on small seeds for most of their diet. They eat a variety of seeds, but thistle, grass and some tree seeds make up most of their diet. You may see them take an insect or two every so often, but if the seeds are there, they can easily survive on them.
Most goldfinches in the UK spend their winters in Spain. The cold winter weather does nothing for their colourful plumage, so they book a cheap flight and head over to Spain to sample the seeds over there.
If any goldfinches do decide to stay in the UK, they will likely use feeding stations in gardens to keep them going throughout the colder months.
A pair of Goldfinches eating seed from a feeder during winter
Goldfinches love to eat dandelion seeds in early summer. They will then lean towards thistles and teasels in the later summer. Their beaks have evolved in such a way that makes them the best thistle seed eaters on the planet!
Goldfinches are masters of thistle eating. Their beaks have evolved to allow them to prise the seeds from thistles with the ease of a magician taking your watching to use in a trick later on.
Goldfinches don’t really hunt because they don’t eat much more than seeds. They find a juicy thistle or dandelion, and their beaks do all the talking after that.
Goldfinch eating a Marsh Thistle
While adult goldfinches tend to have a diet of seeds, seeds and more seeds, baby goldfinches have the occasional insect too. Baby goldfinches need to put on a lot of weight quickly, and seeds are just not enough to get the job done. So, this is the only time you’ll see adults looking for insects.
One of the best plants to attract goldfinches is teasels. They also love thistles and dandelions. So, the best plants to have in your garden are not the most attractive. However, you can also offer small seeds at feeding stations to draw these beauties in.
A small flock of goldfinches foraging on the grass in spring
One of the more favoured foods of a goldfinch is teasels. They love them in the autumn and winter. Once the seed heads have dried out, the goldfinches can use their thin beaks to expertly extract the seeds from between the spikes.
Goldfinches really like the nyjer feeder and the nyjer seed. The seeds are so tiny that you do need one of these feeders; they just spill out of other feeders.
Three goldfinches eating Nyjer seed from a specialist Nyjer seed feeder
Like most birds, goldfinches don’t drink too much. They don’t have sweat glands like us sweaty humans. You may occasionally see a goldfinch drink a bit of water, but they don’t need too much to survive.
The only wild predator of goldfinches in the UK is the sparrowhawk. However, cats are also known to take a goldfinch or two as well.
Goldfinches eating burdock during the winter
Goldfinches will happily eat sunflower seeds and most other seeds that they can find in feeding stations.
Despite their natural diet being mainly seeds, at the feeder, goldfinches are very partial to a peanut and will happily chow down on them.
Goldfinches love sunflower hearts. Having feeders stocked full of sunflower hearts is one of the best ways to attract regular goldfinches into your garden.
In fact, in a recent goldfinch survey (sounds like a joke, but someone really surveyed what goldfinches were eating), sunflower hearts came out on top. Even over nyjer seeds!
A pair of European Goldfinches eating sunflower hearts, from a bird feeder
Goldfinches tend to enjoy seeds more than meat. However, they may take a mealworm or two from feeding stations. This usually happens when they are raising young, and the mealworms are for the babies.
They sure do. Black sunflower seeds are right up there on a goldfinches meal plan. They eat black sunflower seeds until they can barely take off anymore.
Goldfinches will eat fat balls; they absolutely love suet mixed with peanut butter, though. So, to draw goldfinches into your garden, give some peanut butter a try.
Goldfinch in flight
We know that many birds eat lavender seeds, but we can’t find any evidence to suggest that goldfinches do. They likely do. Their beaks are geared towards picking out the tiny seeds of lavender. If you have lavender bushes in your garden, let us know if you spot a goldfinch having a meal!
Absolutely, goldfinches love thistle seeds; in fact, they make up a large percentage of their diet.
Nyjer seeds are one of the more favoured seeds in a feeding station for a goldfinch; they can’t get enough of them.
No goldfinches don’t eat safflower seeds. In fact, these seeds are one that split birds down the middle.
They are very much the Marmite of the seed world. Some birds simply cannot get enough of safflower seeds. Some won’t even come near your feeder if it is stocked with safflower seeds, even if it’s in a seed mix!
The best place to place a goldfinch feeder is nearby trees, bushes or any dense areas. This ensures that the goldfinches feel safe, and are not out in the open where they could be picked off by predators.
Do you have a question about this topic that we haven't answered? Submit it below, and one of our experts will answer as soon as they can.
Get the latest BirdFacts delivered straight to your inbox