European Goldfinch

Carduelis carduelis

The European goldfinch is common across southern England, and can frequently be seen feeding on the seeds of thistles, teasels and other scrubland vegetation.Goldfinches are enjoying a population boom, with garden visits reported to be up 70 percent on numbers seen 20 years ago.

European Goldfinch

European Goldfinch

Goldfinch taking a drink of water

Goldfinch taking a drink of water

Goldfinch gathering nesting materials

Goldfinch gathering nesting materials

A small 'charm' of Goldfinches

A small 'charm' of Goldfinches

Appearance & Identification

What do European Goldfinches look like?

Male goldfinches have vivid red facial markings around their bill, marked with black around the eyes. The rest of the face is white and black. Its back and flanks are a brownish-buff shade, and it has a white rump, black tail and black wings, barred with a wide yellow stripe and tipped with white markings.

During the breeding season, the bill of male and female goldfinches is white, but at other times of the year, it is marked with a black tip.

Female goldfinches are very alike in appearance to males, and visually it is hard to tell them apart from a distance. At close range, the sexes can be distinguished by the size of the red facial patch, with the female’s not extending past the eyes as it does in males of the species.

Close up of a Goldfinch

Close up of a Goldfinch

Juvenile goldfinches do not develop the red, white and black facial markings of adults until the late summer or autumn after hatching. Until this point, they have streaky buff-brown markings on their heads.

Their underparts are a pale yellow-buff colour, and instead of the vivid yellow wing bars seen on adults, in juveniles it is a more indistinct shade of brownish-yellow.

How big are European Goldfinches?

Goldfinches are relatively small members of the finch family, in comparison to the larger hawfinch, bullfinch, crossbill, greenfinch and chaffinch. Siskins and serins are smaller than goldfinches. Males and females are roughly the same size and weight.

  • Length: 12 to 14 cm (4.7 in to 5.5 in)
  • Weight: 17 g (0.6 oz)
  • Wingspan: 24 cm (9.4 in)
Adult and Juvenile Goldfinch

Adult and Juvenile Goldfinch

Calls & Sounds

What sound does a European Goldfinch make?

The flowing high-pitched song of a goldfinch is lively, distinctive and easy to recognise. Heard from treetops and also in flight, it is a flowing musical call, used as a contact call and may regularly be heard en-masse from flocks of goldfinches gathered together.

Alexander Henderson, XC468562. Accessible at


What do European Goldfinches eat?

Seeds form the bulk of a goldfinch’s diet, although some insects are eaten in spring, while seeds are less widely available. Types of seeds preferred include those from teasel and thistle plants, which are inaccessible to many birds.

Goldfinches have long, thin, tweezer-like bills that allow them to extract tiny seeds from spiny plants with ease.

In gardens, goldfinches are particularly partial to black niger seeds, although other small seeds, including sunflower hearts, will also be eaten.

Insects, including bugs, moths, beetles and flies, form a smaller part of a goldfinch’s diet, particularly during early spring and in the breeding season. Spiders and larvae are also eaten.

For a complete guide on the diet of goldfinches, check out this article.

What do baby European Goldfinches eat?

In the nest, goldfinch hatchlings are fed insect larvae, regurgitated by their parents. On leaving the nest, they quickly learn to forage for seeds, mastering the same acrobatic skills as adult birds within the first few weeks of life.

European goldfinch, feeding on the seeds of thistles

European goldfinch, feeding on the seeds of thistles

Habitat & Distribution

What is the habitat of a European Goldfinch?

Habitats favoured by European goldfinches include open woodlands, parklands, grasslands, farmlands, orchards and scrubland.

They are common garden visitors and are also regularly spotted in parks and residential areas with scattered trees. Lower altitudes are preferred to mountainous landscapes, and they are also at home on the edges of forests and in marshy wetlands.

What is the range of a European Goldfinch?

European goldfinches are found throughout Europe, North Africa, and western and central Asia. They have been introduced into Australia, including Tasmania, and New Zealand. In the UK, they are present across the country, except in the extreme northern regions of the Highlands of Scotland.

Many birds living in northern areas migrate south in winter months, while those in the western part of the range are usually resident all year round.

Where do European Goldfinches live?

Within the UK, goldfinches live in settled areas, and can also be found in meadows, woodland, scrubland and farmland.

They are found foraging on roadside hedgerows, in vegetation alongside railways, industrial wasteland, and in open areas of forest edges, preferring lower-lying landscapes to mountainous regions.

Perched Goldfinch calling before taking off

Perched Goldfinch calling before taking off

How rare are European Goldfinches?

Goldfinches are more common today than they were around 20 to 30 years ago. The European population of mature individuals is estimated at between 101 and 155 million birds, and around 1.7 million pairs in the UK.

Where can you see European Goldfinches in the UK?

Goldfinches are present throughout the UK, and are only missing from the most mountainous regions of the Scottish Highlands. Open woodlands, parks, gardens, scrublands and farmland are among their typical habitats, and they are more common in the south of England than in the north.

Typical habitats for Goldfinches include woodland, parks, gardens, scrubland and farmland

Typical habitats for Goldfinches include woodland, parks, gardens, scrubland and farmland

Lifespan & predation

How long do European Goldfinches live?

The usual lifespan of a European goldfinch in the wild is around two years, but when the species has been kept in captivity, a maximum age of 8 years and 8 months has been recorded. Goldfinches breed for the first time when they reach one year.

What are the predators of European Goldfinches?

Domestic cats are common predators of European goldfinches that visit back garden feeders. Sparrowhawks also target goldfinches, their eggs and their young.

Are European Goldfinches protected?

Goldfinches are protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Under the legislation, it is illegal to intentionally kill or injure a goldfinch or take one into captivity. The Act also protects against damage or destruction of their nests, eggs and young.

Are European Goldfinches endangered?

Goldfinches are not endangered, and have a healthy, stable population in the UK of an estimated 1.7 million breeding pairs.

Current population figures indicate that the species has doubled in number since the 1970s, due in part to the wider availability of commercial foods, such as niger seeds, being offered in more gardens.

Goldfinches have a stable population in the UK

Goldfinches have a stable population in the UK

Did you know?

Goldfinches were often kept as captive birds by the Victorians. They can live for up to 10 years.

Nesting & Breeding

Where do European Goldfinches nest?

Common nesting spots for goldfinches are usually found tucked in between branches of a bush or tree, particularly fruit trees. Nests are built up to 6 m (20 ft) off the ground, with higher nests occasionally used.

A compact cup-shaped nest is formed by the female alone, using grasses, moss, animal down, cobwebs and feathers, as well as flowers and buds. Males may assist with bringing nest materials, but the crafting is the sole work of the female.

For more information on goldfinch nesting, check out this guide.

What do European Goldfinch eggs look like?

Goldfinches’ eggs are shades of pale blue-white to grey-violet, spotted with purple-reddish brown markings. They measure around 17 mm by 13 mm (0.7 in by 0.5 in).

A typical clutch consists of between 4 and 6 eggs, which are incubated for 13 to 15 days by the female alone. At least one brood is raised each year, often two, and sometimes as many as three.

Do European Goldfinches mate for life?

Goldfinches do not usually mate for life, but they are seasonally monogamous, and stay together throughout the breeding season, raising their young together before going their separate ways.

Pairs form in late winter, and it’s unlikely that the same pair will reunite and raise young together again.

European Goldfinch perched on a branch

European Goldfinch perched on a branch


Are European Goldfinches aggressive?

Despite their charming appearance, goldfinches do have the tendency to become aggressive towards other smaller and larger bird species, particularly those that attempt to access the same food source.

They are generally reasonably sociable birds and do associate in loose flocks, but when it comes to competing for food, this has the potential to change rather quickly.

Goldfinches frequently forage in pairs or in flocks (known as ‘charms’) of up to around 30 birds during the breeding season. Outside the breeding season, hundreds or even thousands of goldfinches may gather together if they discover a particularly abundant food source.


Do European Goldfinches migrate?

Goldfinch migration is an unpredictable affair. Some birds may stay in their UK territories all year round, while others head for Belgium, southern France, Spain and even as far as Morocco once temperatures drop.

Even if they choose to migrate one year, it’s not guaranteed that they will follow the same behaviour in any subsequent year.

Due to the wide availability of their favourite foods in back garden bird feeders, goldfinches no longer need to travel far to find enough food to help them survive winter, so it’s not uncommon to still be able to enjoy their colourful presence and hear their familiar song throughout the year.

For more information on goldfinch migration, check out this guide.

What are a group of Goldfinches called?

Collective nouns that can be used to describe a group of Goldfinches are as follows:

  • A charm of goldfinches
  • A troubling of goldfinches
  • A chirm of goldfinches
  • A drum of goldfinches
  • A company of goldfinches
  • A trembling of goldfinches
  • A trimming of goldfinches

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Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Carduelis carduelis

Other names:




Conservation status:




12cm to 14cm


21cm to 25.5cm


14g to 19g

Learn more about the European Goldfinch

Similar birds to a European Goldfinch

Other birds in the Finches family

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