How to attract goldfinches

Many backyard birders want to know how to attract American goldfinches to their yards. Goldfinches are beautiful, interesting birds, found throughout most of the Eastern US. It’s a delight to watch them flit through the yard and garden and to hear them sing. You might end up with these lovely visitors without much effort, but if you want to sweeten the deal for them, check out these tips for attracting goldfinches.

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What food attracts goldfinches?

Goldfinches eat small seeds from both feeders and plants. While they do sample larger seeds like millet or cracked sunflower, the most reliable food for goldfinches is Nyjer seed. Nyjer is an imported thistle, and when it’s purchased for bird feeding, the seed is sterile. Nyjer seed can be offered in a variety of tube feeders, as well as mesh feeder socks. I use this nyjer feeder and it’s been very popular with our finches.

What flowers attract goldfinches?

Because they’re seed eaters, goldfinches will happily cling to seed bearing flowers and snack away. They seem to prefer bright colors, so sunflowers, rudbeckias, cone flowers and blanket flowers will attract goldfinches to your garden. My zinnias are always covered in goldfinches (and butterflies!). In general, any flower that has a large cluster of central seeds can be food for finches.

Goldfinches are most drawn to flowers later in the season when the seeds begin to dry out. To support your goldfinch all year long, try to leave the dry seed heads alone. Those seed heads may look a little unsightly but they have an important role to play in feeding birds. In winter, food is much scarcer for non-migrating birds and those dried old flowers will be covered in birds if you give them a chance.

How to attract goldfinches to your garden

First, grow as many seed bearing flowers as you can. Goldfinches like to cling to the flower and feed continuously, so try to put your seed-bearing flowers in locations where the goldfinches won’t be disturbed. A remote, sunny corner of your yard or garden is great – along a sidewalk is less great but they’ll still happily perch and feed.

Even a few flowers can attract goldfinches, so don’t think you need a huge garden in order to bring the finches to your yard. A single sunflower or balcony container of zinnias will almost certainly bring plenty of birds, bees and butterflies!

Other ways to attract goldfinches

In addition to flowers, provide water to attract goldfinches. They’re very small birds, so either give them their own shallow bath (a glass pie plate works great!) or put a few flat rocks in a deeper bath. Make sure there are either low tree branches or other safe perches near the bath – that will help ALL the birds feel safer using it.

If you want to provide a safe haven for birds, it’s best not to use insecticides or aggressive herbicides. While ‘bugs’ can be annoying for us humans, they’re food for a LOT of birds. When we spray our yards to get rid of annoying jerk mosquitos, we’re also, unfortunately, killing harmless and beneficial insects. Those other bugs are a critical food source, especially for baby birds.

Both pesticides and herbicides have been linked to thin shells, deformed hatchlings and other bird health issues. I HATE mosquitoes but I spray myself rather than my yard.

Goldfinches on a nyjer tube feeder

If you’ve never seen goldfinches in your yard or garden before, you might need to work a little harder to attract their notice. Bright colors, especially yellow, seem to attract them and they prefer to have a trees or other elevated points to perch on before landing on a food source. Try planting sunflowers or black-eyed Susans and make sure your feeders are near a tree or other roost. Above all, be patient. It can take time for birds to find your feeders. Our finches visited but didn’t try out the feeder for weeks!

Getting Started Backyard Bird Watching has great tips for making your area appealing to birds of all kinds. An active yard with lots of beneficial plants and sheltering habitat will make birds, including goldfinches, more likely to spend some time eating and hanging out.

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