Alert Status: Green
Identifying Features: Mixture of red, white & black on the head with a golden brown body & bright yellow wing bars.
Average Length: 12 cm
Average Lifespan: 2 years
Average Wingspan: 21-25 cm
Beak type: Seeds
Natural: Seeds, fruits & insects
How to feed: Hanging feeders
What to feed: Niger seeds, sunflower hearts, mixed seeds
Nesting: Usually constructed in a tree towards the branch. Made of moss, grass & lichen.
Where to see: UK wide; often found by seeding plants in parks and gardens.
Adult goldfinches have a distinctive red face with a black cap and black around the eyes. The wings are dark with a striking yellow flash on the underside, and the goldfinch’s breast is a light brown-grey. It is a small species, being slightly smaller than a robin on average. Most goldfinches spend the year in the UK, but some will leave for the winter, travelling as far south as Spain.
The goldfinch is a specialist seed feeder. Its fine beak is perfectly adapted to extracting seeds from plants. Planting teasels in your garden would no doubt attract these beautiful birds. Though you might think of them as being just brown and prickly they are great for attracting insects too. In summer teasels have pale purple flowers which will bring in the bees, butterflies and moths.
Flocks (or charms) of goldfinches roost together in the inner branches of trees, particularly oak and beech trees. Some roosts can contain hundreds of birds but generally they are smaller. Goldfinches often join with chaffinches and linnets to form communal roosts. The roost site can change from one night to the next, but they can use the same one for prolonged periods.
The Irish name for the goldfinch is lasair choille, which translates as ‘flame of the forest’. Elsewhere it has been known as the ‘proud tailor’, for its wonderful patchwork appearance. The colours of the goldfinch’s plumage are the source of a whole other well of folk belief.
As with other red-feathered birds like the robin, the goldfinch is thought to have been stained by the blood of Jesus, when the bird plucked a thistle from Christ’s crown of thorns in pity of his suffering. The Anglo-Saxon name thisteltuige, translating as ‘thistle-tweaker’ describes the bird’s favoured diet, but could also be seen as a reference to this belief.
The gold on the goldfinch’s wings gives the bird connotations of wealth and prosperity. It is believed that if a young girl dreams of a goldfinch, she would marry into wealth.
The collective name for goldfinches, a charm, is derived from the old English word c’irm, describing the birds’ twittering song.
Gold was also believed by early civilisations to hold curative properties, and thus the goldfinch has also become a symbol of health and a protection against illness.
Goldfinches have been valued for their song, as well as their colourful plumage, for many years. These birds were caught and caged almost to extinction by 19th century bird trappers, and kept in cages.