American Goldfinch

Spinus tristis
Range Map

The American Goldfinch prefers open meadow areas. Their range includes most of continental USA and southern Canada. They spend winters throughout much of the Pacific Coast, the southern Rocky Mountain states and the Gulf Coast from Mexico though Texas and to Florida. Their diet is strictly vegetarian. When cowbirds parasitize (i.e. lay their eggs in) this bird’s nest, their babies cannot survive on the seeds brought by the parents to feed the young birds. The American Goldfinch can live as long as ten years.

When first described by western science in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus, he placed it in the genus Spinus, where it remained until 1976. Then someone thought they should move it to the genus Carduelis, but recent studies have shown that was a mistake. Today it has shifted back to its original genus.

Science recognises four subspecies of American Goldfinch:

  • S. t. tristis is the most wide-ranging and mostly breeds east of the Rocky Mountains. They spend winters south to northwestern Mexico, Gulf Coast, and throughout Florida.
  • S. t. pallidus breeds mostly in the Rocky Mountain zone. They spend winters from northern Great Basin south to northern Sonora (Mexico) and western Texas.
  • S. t. jewetti lives along the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains from British Columbia to Central California.
  • S. t. salicamans lives west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains from Central California into Baja California (Mexico). Some birds spend winters south to northwestern Baja California and east into the Mojave and Colorado Deserts as far as southeastern California and western Arizona.

I’ve met members of this species in Texas at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, in New Mexico at Albuquerque’s Rio Grande Nature Center, and several locations in California. I gathered some of my favorite images of American Goldfinches as they perched on hemlock at Hookton Slough in the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge south of Eureka (California).

Click map markers to reveal further information