While many of our most familiar backyard birds are near the end, or have already concluded, their breeding season, for the American Goldfinch it is just beginning. Many of you have already seen a reduction in goldfinch numbers at your feeders as they begin to move away from feeders toward nesting areas. Goldfinches typically nest in June and July when certain nest materials, and more of their food sources, become available.
The goldfinch’s main natural habitats are weedy fields and floodplains, where plants such as thistles and asters are common. So, if you live close to one of these types of areas you may continue to see good numbers of goldfinches at your feeders. If you live in a more forested area you will likely see far less goldfinches until they finish nesting. So, don’t be concerned that something has happened to “your” goldfinches or you’ve done something wrong. They are simply transitioning into their nesting phase and will return to feeders in due time.
The male and female locate a suitable nest site together. Nests are often near water. At Hidden Lakes Park on McCrory Ln, which borders the Harpeth River, goldfinch nests are common to see.
The male may bring nest materials but the female builds the nest, usually in a shrub or sapling in a fairly open setting rather than in forest interior. The nest is often built high in a shrub, where two or three vertical branches join; usually shaded by clusters of leaves from above, but often open and visible from below.
The nest is an open cup of rootlets and plant fibers lined with plant down, woven so tightly that it can hold water. The female bonds the foundation to supporting branches using spider silk, and makes a downy lining often using the fluffy “pappus” material taken from the same types of seedheads that goldfinches feed on. It takes the female about 6 days to build the nest. The finished nest is about 3 inches across on the outside and 2-4.5 inches high.
The female incubates about 95% of the time and takes 10-12 days. The male brings food to the female while she incubates. The young leave the nest after 11-17 days. Both sexes tend to the young and are fed a regurgitated milky seed pulp. Insects are rarely part of their diet.
Goldfinches are monogamous per year but commonly change mates between years.