July 8, 2022
Goldfinches, the vegans of the bird world, nest late when flower seeds are coming in


by Mary Reid Barrow with photos by Terri Gorman

This photo of a striking gold and black male goldfinch amid red and yellow blanket flowers blooming in Terry Gorman’s garden looks so rich and vibrant, it’s almost decadent, like a summer dessert full of fresh fruit.

And the goldfinch was plucking seeds from the blanket flower heads as if it really were!  They will wrench a tiny seed from a flower head with a twist of their heads, a little like we snap an apple off a branch.

Goldfinches are the vegans of the bird world.  As soon as a flower goes to seed, goldfinches are usually the first to arrive, because that’s their grocery store.  Seeds are baby food for their young and food for them too.  There’s no room for insects in this vegan diet.

 Before the time of bird feeders, goldfinches had no choice but to find seeds in nature. That’s why they naturally nest late in the season when seeds are becoming abundant.Male goldfinches are still in their full breeding colors because they are just beginning to settle down to nest.  The females are duller and less vibrant with no black head, all the better to blend into a nest and keep the babies safe!   In winter, both males and females are brownish and hard to tell apart

Later in the summer when the youngsters have fledged and are out and about too, goldfinch families often find my black-eyed Susan patch as it is going to seed.  When surprised, the whole family flies up out of the flowers and, off they go like an undulating cloud of yellow, calling all the while.

Gaillardia, or blanket flowers, all the coneflowers, asters, sunflowers, and thistles are good grocery stores for goldfinches.  Of course, the birds can’t afford to be picky, so they also settle year round for big box stores, like tree seeds, grass and weed seeds and more.

Obviously, goldfinches rely on seeds and this time of year they want the best for their babes.  On the other hand gardeners want to deadhead their flowers to keep the garden neat.  One solution is to make a bouquet of fading flowers for the goldfinches and tie it to a fence post or stake.  They will find it and be grateful.

Goldfinches will disperse come fall when natural seeds are most abundant.  If you miss them, the time to cater to the goldfinches once again is winter when wild seeds are scarcest.

Put up a finch feeder just for them.  Other small birds will like it too.  The feeder is made to hold small thistle, or nyjer seeds.   That should keep them around through winter until the blanket flower blooms again.

Reach Mary Reid at


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