If you’re living in the UK, perhaps you have been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the British Goldfinch. These sweet little birds are tiny in stature and are well-loved due to their vibrant colours and sweet song. They can be seen throughout the UK and often appear in gardens around the country.
The British Goldfinch bird is a small bird that is known for its red, white, and blackhead, its black and yellow wings, its beautiful song, and efficient seed-eating. This bird can be found throughout the UK and is also a common choice for a caged bird to be kept in the house.
In the rest of this article, we will take a closer look at these birds and learn more about their history, appearance, and habits.
We will also see how to attract British Goldfinches more effectively to your own garden, as well as what you need to know to keep one in your house as a pet.
British Goldfinches are beautiful and are quite easy to recognize. These birds will often have a black head with signature white cheeks and a lively red facemask. Their beaks are light in colour and are usually long and slender. This beak design is advantageous for the finches as they pluck out seeds from various plants.
These birds can be distinguished by their black wings with a bright yellow band running through the middle when it comes to their wings. This band is most noticeable when the finches spread their wings. The males use these colourful wings to show aggression as well as to impress female goldfinches.
Their bodies are usually a mix of white and light tan. Depending on the bird, the colours may be well blended or might be displayed in a more stark pattern. The body colouring of each Goldfinch is unique. Young finches will have less distinctive body colours, but the colour will often become more distinct as these birds mature.
Their delicate little beaks can be very light pink or greyish white. Their legs are typically a light tan colour.
These birds are small and delicate, weighing around 14 -17 grams (0.49 – 0.59 ounces). They are about 12 cm in length (4.72 in), and their full wingspan is about 21-25 cm (8.26 – 9.84 in). Male and female goldfinches are approximately the same size.
Male and Female Differences
Telling male and female finches apart can be a bit of a challenge. However, there are few signs you can look at to help you know the difference. So let’s take a look at these key distinctions.
- Look at the red markings on the face. If the red doesn’t extend past the eye, it is likely a female finch. Males will probably have a more red colouring that goes on past the eye. Simply put, males are likely to have more red on the face than females are.
- Check the nasal hairs. These are the tiny hairs located where the bill meets the head. On a female, these tiny hairs will likely be light, likely white. On the male, these will be darker, perhaps even black.
- Check the wings to tell the difference between the two sexes. The male wings will likely be pure black with a yellow band, while the female’s wings more commonly have a brown tinge to them.
However, these are just general guidelines. Goldfinches can have a mix of these characteristics, making it more challenging to know if the bird is male or female.
Changes in Appearance
As baby goldfinches grow, their appearance will change to fit the description of the adults above. However, as babies, they will have a slightly different appearance. The wings and tail will remain the same, but the body and head colours will be more muted and grey in appearance. In addition, they will often appear with mild spotting that will disappear as they moult.
To see a video displaying the colouring of the babies and the adult goldfinches, you can check out this Youtube video below:
The song of the Goldfinch has been well-loved throughout history. It is often described as a lovely tinkling or twitter. Their lovely sounds combined with their striking colours have made this bird a favourite to keep at home in a cage. This tradition dates back to the Victorians, who were taken with the vivid colours and lovely, delicate sounds and were delighted to keep goldfinches as pets.
If you’re curious to hear the sound of the British Goldfinch, you can check out this recording here:
If you put out sunflower hearts and nyjer seeds in your birdfeeder, you may already have Goldfinches in your garden. These birds are well equipped for seed-eating and have the perfect beak to pluck the seeds out of thistles and teasels. They also enjoy eating tree seeds and have a particular taste for birch and alder varieties.
The mandibles of these birds are perfectly designed to consume seeds. The upper mandible has a special groove that easily cradles the seed when the bird uses its tongue to hold the seed in place. The bird can then use the sharp part of the lower mandible to remove any hard outside of the seed, perfectly preparing it for consumption.
These grooves change in size depending on the location in the finch’s mouth. This adaptability allows the bird to snack on seeds of a variety of sizes without exerting extra effort.
However, this diet specifically applies to fully mature finches. Baby finches need to consume special pastes until they are old enough to consume seeds for themselves. When they are first born, these baby finches eat a regurgitated paste made of insects and seeds. Both parents are responsible for feeding the babies this special paste.
As these babies mature, the paste contains less and less insect matter and an increasing amount of seed matter. By the time these babies are ready to leave the nest, they no longer consume any insects. At this point, they are living on a paste made solely from seeds. As they become fully mature goldfinches, they will consume seeds alone.
Attracting Goldfinches to your Garden
If, like me, you’re in the UK and looking to attract goldfinches to your garden, here are some tips to get you started. If you already have thistles and teasels growing in your garden, you may already be attracting these sweet little birds as they love the seeds inside these plants. However, if you’re looking to set out a feed for them, you can follow a few simple steps.
If you’re using a typical metal canister feeder, the goldfinches may not recognize it as a source of tasty food. However, once they understand that the canister is filled with nyjer seeds or another similar seed, they will likely return again and again. In my garden, I have a pair of Goldfinch that visit my Sunflower heart feeder very regularly. In fact, you can see them in slow motion in this video I made:
But if you are struggling to attract Goldfinch and are keen to try something else, why not cut the heads of some thistle or teasel and insert these heads by the stem through the outside of the feeder.
With the thistle or teasel attached from the outside, the goldfinches will come closer to the feeder to extract the seeds. Landing on the feeder, they will realize that the canister is also filled with seeds they enjoy. Once they are in the habit of coming to your feeder, you should be able to sit back and enjoy regular visits.
To see a video tutorial of this feeding trick, you can check out this Youtube video below:
Behavior and Movement
The behaviour of the British Goldfinch will change depending on the season. During autumn and winter, they commonly fly in larger flocks to roost effectively. However, outside of the mating season, they can be found flying in smaller flocks at other times in the year. These smaller flocks are known as charms.
Although this bird is commonly referred to as the British Goldfinch, these birds will often move freely throughout a few European countries. While they can commonly be found in British gardens in the late spring, some of these birds can be found flying south to Spain or France. Usually, these birds that migrate are ones involved in breeding and tend to be predominantly female.
The female is also in charge of building the nests to lay eggs and care for new baby goldfinches. These nests are usually soft and shaped like a cup. The female will select materials such as grass and moss for the main construction. She will also seek out bits of wool and soft plant matter to use on the inside.
When the female is ready to lay eggs, the eggs are typically small and smooth with a gloss-like finish. There are somewhere between three to seven eggs laid at one time by the female. They are usually light blue with some reddish-brown patterns. Their measurements are quite small, about 18mm (0.7 inches) by 13mm (0.5 inches). The eggs need about two weeks to incubate before they hatch.
Goldfinches as Pets
British Goldfinches have long made for popular pets. These beautiful little birds can live for about a decade under the right conditions. So if you’re considering bringing a goldfinch into your home, let’s take a look at the right circumstances for these birds to thrive in. First and foremost, you should only obtain pets through reputable licensed sources.
Fact: You must not keep any wild bird (or its egg or nest) unless you can prove it was taken or killed legally.
If you want your Goldfinch to be happy, you must ensure a large area where it can fly around freely. These little birds have lots of energy and enjoy flying about unobstructed. These are peaceful and friendly birds, so they will likely get along well if you already have other similar birds. Goldfinches are social creatures and should be kept with other birds to maintain health and happiness.
Make sure your cage isn’t too full of accessories, or your Goldfinch won’t be able to fly about freely. A large, wide flight cage could work to keep your goldfinches, and an aviary would be even better.
The normal temperature and conditions in your house should be appropriate for your Goldfinches. Think carefully when it comes to where you place the cage. You want to avoid any areas in the house that would be particularly drafty or would experience constant, noticeable temperature changes. A mild and consistent place will be suitable for your Goldfinches.
Feeding and Maintenance
You will want to mimic the diet of Goldfinches in the wild. This diet can be easily achieved with a mix of nyjer seeds, sunflower hearts, and fresh vegetables and fruit. When making changes to your birds’ diet, make sure you do so slowly. Careful transitions will allow their tiny systems time to adjust to the new foods and will avoid unexpected messes in the cages later on.
Remember to clean the cage and all of its components periodically. You can use warm, soapy water to accomplish this. However, harsh chemicals, particularly bleach, can be harmful to your pet birds, so it is best to avoid these compounds.
When cleaning, you will want to move your birds to another location. Because goldfinches are so delicate, it is best to avoid handling these birds directly. Birds are highly affected by stress, and highly stressful situations can even kill delicate birds like goldfinches.
When it comes time to move them in order to clean effectively, you can try such tactics as speaking softly and calmly, comforting them with the timbre of your voice. Give them plenty of time to adjust to new surroundings. Birds are sensitive to change and will need time to adjust. This includes small changes as well, like the introduction of new toys.
It’s no surprise that the British Goldfinch is a well-loved bird that humans love to watch in the garden or even keep in the home. For decades, their delicate structure, beautiful colouring, and sweet song have made them popular and exotic birds. However, by understanding their habits and diet, you can better attract them to your garden or even bring one of these sweet birds home as a pet.
Other related question asked
Do Goldfinches migrate? Generally, Goldfinch are resident in the UK and therefore do not migrate. However, of the birds that do migrate, many will fly south as far as Spain.
Are Goldfinches monogamous? Generally, once UK Goldfinch has paired up, they remain together until the first brood has hatched. The following season Goldfinch are known to search for a new mate.