How to Attract Goldfinches

Goldfinches - Laura Milholland

Lesser Goldfinches – Local Photo by Laura Milholland

Goldfinches in the Bay Area

There are two species of goldfinches commonly seen at feeders in the Bay Area, Lesser Goldfinches and American Goldfinches. Both are present year round (although Lesser Goldfinches visit feeders much less in summer) and may be attracted to homes in almost any habitat outside of dense forest. Take a look at this article if you'd like to learn more about the finer points of goldfinch identification.

Feeding Basics

American Goldfinches may eat normal black oil sunflower, and both species will happily eat hulled sunflower chips alone or in a blend such as our No-Mess. One other food that is a particular favorite of goldfinches is a seed called Nyjer, or thistle. This is a tiny black seed that is attractive to goldfinches and Pine Siskins and which will also be eaten by House Finches, juncos, and sparrows. Why offer Nyjer if hulled sunflower attracts goldfinches and a wider variety of birds? Because of what it doesn't attract: squirrels, rodents, jays, and crows all generally give it a pass.

Feeder Selection

It is important to use a specialty finch feeder with small feeding ports when offering Nyjer seed; the larger feeding ports on general purpose feeders will encourage other birds to sort through the Nyjer and cause spilling of seed. Within the world of finch feeders, however, there are still several options to choose from.

Fabric Mesh $3-$6 Short-lived Seed exposed to rain Difficult to add trays and domes
Metal Mesh $12-$45 More durable Seed exposed to rain May be compatible with trays and domes
Cheap Tube $10-$16 More durable Better rain protection May be compatible with trays and domes
Good Tube $30+ Lifetime guarantee Better rain protection Fully compatible with trays and domes

Finch Sock

Finch socks are an inexpensive way to experiment with attracting finches. Local picture of American Goldfinches by Jack Gedney.

Quick-Clean Finch Feeder

Our Quick-Clean finch feeders offer easy cleaning, a lifetime guarantee, easy accessorizing, and good weather protection.

Nest Material BallOther Ways of Attracting Goldfinches

In addition to seed feeders, goldfinches also come readily to birdbaths. Make sure to get a shallow bath so that goldfinches and other small birds can both drink and bathe comfortably. While goldfinches build open cup nests in trees and will not use bird houses, they can be attracted to cotton nesting material which they use to line their nests. Put out one of our fluffy nest-building balls in spring to watch goldfinches and other birds gather material for their nests.

Lack of Goldfinches

When putting up a finch feeder for the first time, it may take from a few days to (exceptionally) several months for birds to discover it. Unlike a standard sunflower feeder, which is attractive to many different species, Nyjer is most strongly attractive to goldfinches in particular and you will have to wait for them to locate the feeder by sight.

If you have been attracting goldfinches and find that you haven't been seeing any recently, the first thing to do is check the condition of your seed. If it has been in the feeder for a long time, particularly if it has gotten wet, it may have spoiled or gone stale. Replace your seed if there is any visible mold, clumping together from moisture, if it has lost its wholesome nutty smell, or if it has been in the feeder for over a month with no activity.

Although our goldfinches do not migrate, you will notice natural fluctuations in the level of bird activity at your feeders. Many yards experience an extended lull between April and September or so, with significantly more activity during the winter months. One reason for this is nesting behavior; winter-flocking goldfinches break up into breeding pairs and stay close to their nesting sites. Another reason is the seasonal abundance of natural foods as goldfinches feed first on new growth and flower buds, and then on the seeds produced by grasses, thistles, and other plants. If you've had uneaten Nyjer seed in your feeder for more than a month, it has probably become stale or rancid and will need to be replaced with fresh seed. If your Nyjer feeder is not getting much activity, you might want to try offering finely chopped sunflower chips instead in your finch feeder. Goldfinches like it just as well or better than Nyjer, and it is more attractive to other birds like titmice, chickadees, and house finches.