How Do I Attract Goldfinches?

With their bright yellow plumage and cheery song, it's no wonder everybody wants goldfinches in their yards. Fortunately, goldfinches can be easily enticed into most any yard in our region. The American Goldfinch is a year-round resident that can be attracted with the right combination of food and native plants.


Goldfinches love seeds high in fatty oils and will happily visit Finch Feeders to eat Nyjer seed (often called thistle although it is not related to our native thistle plants). Finches are picky eaters, so it is important to make sure the Nyjer you serve them is fresh. Nyjer will lose the fatty oils that make it attractive to finches relatively fast, especially once it is out in a feeder and exposed to changes in the weather. Any Nyjer seed that has been outside in feeders for over 4 weeks should be replaced with fresh seed. Nyjer that has been kept inside but is older than a year should probably be replaced, too. You can test your Nyjer for freshness by crushing a pinch of the seeds in a piece of white paper; if the seed leaves an oily residue it is still good, but if it is mostly dry and dusty it should be replaced. Dried out Nyjer can be scattered on the ground for doves and native sparrows, who eat the seed for the carbs which aren't as affected as the seed ages. Goldfinches will also eat Sunflower Chips and Black Oil Sunflower seed, especially in the winter. Our Finch Mix blend contains both Nyjer and finely chopped Sunflower Chips that provide your finches with two of their favorite foods and works well in most Finch Feeders.

Native Plants

Goldfinches love eating the seeds of a number of native plants, and will often choose these plants over coming to your feeders. Coneflowers, sunflowers, native thistles, and dandelions all produce seeds that goldfinches consume in great quantities. Leave sunflower and coneflower seed heads on the stalks to enjoy finches in your garden during the summer and fall. You can also cut the seed heads, bundle them together, and hang them as winter feeders.

Native thistles provide finches with nesting material, as well as food. Goldfinches gather the down of the thistle to line their nests. Some non-native thistles can be very invasive, so be sure to check with your local plant nursery before you plant thistle in your yard.

Goldfinch Activity Cycle

Goldfinches begin molting into their familiar brilliant yellow plumage at the end of March. At this time, goldfinches start to consume more Nyjer seed and will flock to finch feeders. Finch activity continues to increase through early May, with local flocks being joined by flocks migrating north. By mid-May, dandelions go to seed and finches drop off at feeders to take advantage of this natural food source. Goldfinches will continue to cycle in and out at finch feeders for the rest of spring through summer, depending on available natural food sources.

Goldfinches nest late in the eastern part of the US, delaying their nesting cycle to coincide with the thistle down and seed production of native thistle plants. This typically happens at the end of July. Unlike other birds, finches do not start their nestlings on an insect diet, but feed them seeds only from the very first day. Goldfinches will remain active at feeders during this time, with a spike in activity in late August when young birds are brought into the feeders by their parents.

Finch activity continues through October as the adults begin to molt into their drab winter plumage. November through the following March generally sees a drop in finches at Nyjer feeders, although some people see steady activity all winter long. Often, goldfinches may switch their diet to feeding more on sunflower seeds during winter.

For more on attracting goldfinches, stop in and see us today!