The American Goldfinch (commonly known in the United States as simply a Goldfinch), with the bright yellow summer plumage of the male, is one of the perennial favorite birds here in Central Arkansas. Here are some of the most common questions we get about Goldfinches along with their answers.
When are Goldfinches in Arkansas?
In general, the Goldfinch “season” in the southern and central portions of the state begins around Thanksgiving and ends around Mother’s Day in May. In the northern half of the state Goldfinches may be found throughout the year. We have found through customer comments that those folks living in the foothills of the central region may also have Goldfinches year-round.
The plumage of both the male and female Goldfinches is more muted during the winter season (see cover picture), with the bright yellow feathers having been replaced with greenish-gold. However, during the spring, beginning in March, the male’s feathers (except the wings and tail) turn vivid yellow with summer plumage. Because of the transition, many people mistakenly believe the birds don’t ‘arrive’ until they see the bright yellow plumage when in fact they have probably been around for several months.
How do I attract Goldfinches?
Feeding Goldfinches is the best way to attract them to your yard. Begin feeding the birds in November to attract the largest number to your yard and to establish your yard as being the ‘place to be.’ Goldfinches are flocking birds meaning that when there are a few there are usually many, so many feeders are designed with lots of feeding ‘stations.’ It is a good rule of thumb to purchase a feeder (or several) that will allow the most number of birds to perch and eat as your space and feeding budget will allow.
What do I feed Goldfinches?
Goldfinches, while they will eat the black-oil sunflower seeds included in most seed blends, they seem to prefer two specific types of seeds: Nyjer or Hulled Sunflower. Below you will find the ‘pros and cons of each type of food typically available.
Nyjer (a.k.a.: thistle ) is a small seed similar in shape and size to the seed on a dandelion or about half the size of a caraway seed. Nyjer seed is typically imported to the U.S. from India or Africa. Due to the small size and ‘fluid’ nature of Nyjer, special feeders are required to prevent spillage. These feeders incorporate very small openings that allow the Goldfinches to peck at the seeds to get them out. Commonly available feeders will allow up 24 birds to eat at one time, creating a beautiful display of natural color. Most Goldfinch feeders are also colored yellow to help attract the Goldfinches, probably because of their flocking instinct.
One of the benefits of Nyjer is that squirrels and raccoons do not typically eat Nyjer like other seed varieties, including sunflower. One downside of Nyjer is that there is a lot of shell waste. In fact, it may appear the Goldfinches are spilling the seed but careful inspection will show that the birds crack open the tiny shell and extract the meat from within, then discard the empty shell. The empty hulls may choke out lawns, negatively influence soil conditions, attract rodents, and create an unsightly mess in your yard. This waste should also be considered into the cost of feeding your Goldfinches. Another downside to Nyjer is that finches are typically the only birds who eat it regularly, so when the season ends, leftover seed may go stale before the next feeding season begins, again adding to your overall cost of feeding.
Hulled Sunflower comes in two forms: Course “Hearts” and Fine “Chips.” Hulled Sunflower, in either form, virtually eliminates all of the negative factors associated with Nyjer and is typically far more economical due to having almost no waste. Feeders offering Hulled Sunflower will be more prone to Squirrel and Raccoon raids. It is generally considered a good idea to have some sort Squirrel and Raccoon deterrent in place if using Hulled Sunflower. However, the cost savings associated with using Hulled Sunflower will, over time, more than pay for any Squirrel or Raccoon deterrents necessary.
Fine Chips are a ground form of sunflower hearts. Fine Chips may be used in Goldfinch feeders designed for use with Nyjer seed as the fine chips are ground small enough that the Goldfinches can easily peck the seed out. One of the benefits of using Fine Chips in a Nyjer style feeder is that the yellow color may be more likely to attract the Goldfinches. Because Fine Chips have so little waste, feeders will typically not need to be filled as often either, though using a bird-safe additive such as Feeder Fresh will help prevent the caking that can occur with Hulled Sunflower in general.
Course Hearts may be used in regular seed feeders thus eliminating the need for special feeders; however, the lack of yellow in these feeders may be less effective in attracting Goldfinches to your yard. An additive such as Feeder Fresh is still recommended to prevent caking.
An additional benefit of Hulled Sunflower in either form is that if you have seed left over at the end of the season you can easily mix the leftovers in with your other feeders thereby eliminating the storage issues and potential financial loss associated with Nyjer, which may go stale over the months between seasons.
Goldfinch Blend is a third feeding option. This blend is comprised of both Fine Chips and Nyjer. Unfortunately, Goldfinch Blend will still create a mess, tends to be fairly expensive, and will likely attract squirrels and raccoons, so there really aren’t any benefits to using these blends unless it is the only thing available to feed your Goldfinches.
A Final Word…
As always, be sure to purchase your seed from a source where you are assured the freshest, cleanest seed available with no ‘fill seed.’ Wild Birds Unlimited sets standards for and monitors the cleanliness of the seed we offer; we refuse to use fill seed; and we receive our shipments directly from the seed mills each week. Our seed never sits on a warehouse shelf and is always the freshest and cleanest available. All of these factors help make Wild Birds Unlimited seed your best birdfeeding value!
Should you have any questions, please feel free to call and speak with any of our knowledgeable store associates. We will always be glad to assist you!
Compiled By: John Sommer
Wild Birds Unlimited - Little Rock