What Do Goldfinches Eat In The Wild And Gardens?

what do goldfinches eat

If you’re trying to attract goldfinch to your yard, you’ll already know that offering food is the best way to do this. But what do goldfinches eat?

Goldfinches are granivores, which means they mainly eat seeds. Thistle seeds are a goldfinch favorite. Goldfinches will also eat other food sources including plants, vegetation, tree sap, fruits, and berries. Insects are consumed by goldfinches in very small amounts, this is mainly to provide chicks with a source of protein.

Now you have a basic idea of what a goldfinch will eat, but what do they specifically eat? This guide will take you through what you want to know about a goldfinch’s diet. Plus we’ll go through some feeding habits you have questions about.

Let’s get started.

What do goldfinches eat in the wild

1. Seed

Seeds are the main food source for goldfinch. In fact, goldfinches are one of the strictest granivorous birds.

Seeds provide goldfinch with carbohydrates, fats, and nutrients. Goldfinches are attracted to plants that produce very small, fine seeds.

Common plant seeds goldfinch like to eat are:

  • Thistle
  • Teasel
  • Dandelion
  • Ragweed
  • Cosmos
  • Lavender
  • Goatsbeard

The goldfinch’s beak is specifically adapted to extract as many of these seeds as possible. Their beaks act almost like tweezers to pull out the small delicate seeds.

And because other birds can’t reach these foods, it gives them access to a food source with less competition.

In the wild goldfinches will find these plants amongst grasslands and fields. These plants grow quickly and ensure goldfinches have an abundant supply of food all year round.

You can also plant these flowers and grasses in your yard to attract more goldfinch.

Tree seeds are another important source of nutrition for goldfinches. They will mainly go for seeds of conifer trees such as:

  • Pines
  • Spruce
  • Hemlock
  • Alder
  • Birch

2. Plants and vegetation

Alongside eating the seed of plants, goldfinch will make use of other parts of the plant. Goldfinch can often be seen eating plant buds on their favorite trees.

The vegetation that the goldfinch like to eat are soft, tender parts of plants. This provides the goldfinch with lots of fiber, nutrients and is a good source of water too.

Goldfinch can eat tree bark too. The immature bark of young trees is easy for them to access. They can also peck at the hard and fibrous bark of mature trees. Goldfinch can appear to be eating bark when they are actually pecking pieces of lichen growing on the tree.

3. Tree sap

Goldfinches spend a lot of time in trees, which means they have access to the tree sap.

Tree sap is high in sugar content and can give goldfinch a lot of energy in their diet. It also contains lots of nutrients such as nitrogen, salts, and amino acids.

We’ve already discussed how the goldfinch’s beak cannot break through mature tree bark. And so goldfinch will rely on other animals to breaks through the bark first.

Once the bark is exposed the tree sap will ooze out and provide a sweet sugary snack for the goldfinch to feed on.

Common sap filled trees that goldfinch are attracted to include:

  • Maple
  • Birch
  • Beech

4. Fruit and Berries

Goldfinches enjoy eating fruit, blossoms, and berries from trees and shrubs. You’ll notice goldfinch eating fruit blossom for only a short period of the year. Fruit blossoms are soft and sweet for the goldfinch to eat.

The goldfinch will also enjoy eating the soft fruity flesh from any fruit trees they can find. Fruit provides the goldfinch with energy, nutrients, fiber and is an excellent source of water. The goldfinch can use their beak to easily peck through the soft skin and get right into the fruity flesh and juices inside.

Some common fruits and blossoms that goldfinches eat include:

  • Apples
  • Cherries
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Pears

Although these are fruits that birds will find in the wild, they will also try foods that you offer up at a feeder. Make sure the flesh part is exposed to attract the goldfinch and other birds to the sweet scent. Don’t offer fruits that are rotten as birds will likely leave these, and it will attract rodents to your feeders.

Berries are another firm favorite of the goldfinch. Berries are usually soft, sweet, and crammed full of seeds. Eating a berry combines the benefits of fruit with eating small seeds.

5. Insects

Goldfinches mainly have a vegetarian diet. The only time they change their diet to include insects is in the summer months. This is because summer is the breeding season.

Goldfinch will eat insects during this time to provide a good source of protein to help their chicks to thrive. Their usual diet of seeds and plants is low on protein, so they need insects to boost their intake of this essential nutrient.

During summer moths goldfinch will target small insects such as:

  • Aphids
  • Gnats
  • Flies
  • Beetles
  • Caterpillars

These insects are usually found on and around the plants that the goldfinches naturally feed on. The goldfinch will eat them and regurgitate this for their young to eat.

Goldfinch may appear to eat insects out with the summer seasons. Yet it’s thought that this is accidental eating when they are searching for seeds or vegetation. Goldfinch will not actively look to feed on insects other than when they have young chicks to feed.

What do goldfinches eat In Gardens?

Now that you know what goldfinch eat in the wild, this can help you to attract them to the feeder in your yard. Let’s take a look at what foods are known to attract goldfinch.

Nyger seed

If you use only one food to attract goldfinch make it nyger seeds. Goldfinches go crazy for nyger seeds as it closely resembles the thistle seeds they eat in the wild.

Nyger seeds as small and crammed full of nutrients and fatty oils to keep the goldfinch healthy. This seed is also a great source of protein for goldfinch with their heavily seed-based diet.

You’ll attract a variety of finches by using nyger seed. I highly recommend you use a sock feeder (like these) as it makes it much easier for the goldfinches to eat the seed inside.

If you add nyger seed to a regular tube feeder it seems to clog up the ports pretty quickly. This is because nyger seed is very oily and can clump when exposed to wet or humid conditions.

Sunflower hearts

One of the plants that goldfinches love to feed on is sunflowers. They are so rich in seeds and an excellent food source for goldfinch. It’s no surprise that goldfinches love to eat sunflower seeds in your feeders.

You can use striped or black oil sunflowers seeds, but they particularly love to eat sunflower hearts. This may be because they can eat a lot of them without having to de-shell each one first.

Related questions

Why do goldfinch feed upside down?

One strange feeding behavior you may have noticed from goldfinches at your feeders is that they like to feed upside down.

The reason they are able to do this is to maximize the number of seeds they can get from a plant. Often the plants they visit will bend and sway with the weight of the goldfinch. Turning upside-down means they can still gather the seeds when the plant changes position.

This position also allows them to access all parts of the seed head and strip the plant as much as possible.

In fact, the goldfinches have adapted to use their feet to help them eat. Their feet allow them to grip and pull to get access to seeds within a plant that other species can’t. This ability gives them a better chance of survival over other seed-eating birds.

What do goldfinch eat in winter?

Seed can be harder to come across in the winter as most plants have dried out and died off. During this time of year, teasels are the main source of food for goldfinches.

Teasels are tall and prickly plant heads that can withstand the winter weather. Because they are high off the ground then they are usually unaffected by deep piles of snow.

Goldfinch will also eat from shrubs that are rich in berries during the winter months. You’ll notice winter plants such as holly, hawthorn, and winter berries can be a food source for your local goldfinch.

Final thoughts

Goldfinches are mainly seed eaters. That means you can attract them to your yard by offering up their favorite seeds such as nyger and sunflower. You can also plant these flowers in your own yard for a natural source for them to feed on.

Other great sources of food you can encourage goldfinch with is fruit and sap-producing trees.

Although goldfinches don’t eat insects, they will look for them in summer to feed their chicks. Having a good source of plants in your yard will encourage goldfinch to visit to pick up extra food for their young.

Goldfinch are quite simple in their tastes, but if you offer them what they like they’ll come flocking to your yard in no time.

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