What Do Goldfinches Eat?

American Goldfinches are a beautiful bird who, while quite small, can certainly seem to eat their weight in food!

In today’s blog we’re going to talk about what American Goldfinches like to eat, what they eat in the wild, what the best food is for them to eat at bird feeders, and what the American Goldfinch song sounds like.

What is the best food for Goldfinches?

The best food for American Goldfinches really depends on the application. If you’re trying to attract them to your garden, you’ll want to learn what plants to use and the best parts of the garden to plant them in. If you’re trying to do a little window bird watching, we’re looking at feeders and types of bulk seed for Goldfinches.

So! What do Goldfinches eat in the wild?

In the wild, American Goldfinches rely on plants that produce very small to small seeds. Plants such as thistle, sunflowers, sycamores, dandelions, and nyjer seed. Any small seed is going to appeal to these finches, but any thistle seed/nyjer seed is going to be the main draw. They will however also eat grasses, and some bark, including alder, birch, western red, cedar, and elm.1

What is the best food for Goldfinches to eat at a bird feeder?

The best bird feeder food for Goldfinches is still thistle seed, or nyjer seed. This is the same seed they would find in the wild, but it’s conveniently stored into a what’s called a sock feeder or bagged as you see here.

There are some things you’ll want to know about feeding such small seed though:

  1. It is expensive compared to traditional bulk bird seed
  2. Because it’s expensive, know that most bird feeders are not built to dish out such small seeds. They’re built for the bulk seed.
  3. Traditional bird feeders will cause you to have a lot of seed spillage – of that expensive seed.

The sock feeders are okay, but we have some big competition here – the squirrel and raccoon. They both really love the taste of thistle which means if you have a sock feeder, you can expect it to get ripped apart by the raccoon. Squirrels will do just as much damage, we’ve found it just takes them longer to succeed.

So what do you do to protect thistle seed from squirrels and raccoons?

Essentially your only line of defense is to buy a feeder expressly made for thistle seed, or focus on planting plants instead and let the birds harvest the seeds themselves.

So what are you looking for when you go to purchase a Goldfinch bird feeder?

  • Small holes. Remember the seed is small, the birds are small, and squirrels and raccoons are much larger. When you buy a thistle seed feeder, you want the holds for the birds to be their size. Traditional feeders definitely have larger holes in them, which is great, for larger birds and feeding the squirrels. Raccoons also love those feeders! But the small holes make it very difficult for those larger snouts and hands to empty your feeder.
  • Lots of sitting area. Goldfinches are one of those birds that tend to flock together. If you see one or two one day, it’s highly likely they’ll spread the good news about your feeder and you’ll have a ton of them that afternoon or the next day. More sitting room means the feed goes faster, but it won’t be because you’re attracting the wrong animals.
  • Longevity. One of the reasons we recommend the feeders below is that the tubes on the feeders don’t yellow or don’t yellow due to ultra-violet light (UV) very quickly. The birds don’t care if the tube is yellow, but you might. We think it tends to make the feeder look old/dirty when they turn colors, and the whole point of the feeder is to enhance your view, right?

Goldfinch Feeders We Recommend

Here are two we recommend – and so does everyone else it seems! (Note: These are Amazon affiliate links.)

Extra Large Goldfinch Feeder
Extra Large Goldfinch Feeder

Extra large: https://amzn.to/2VeMhsO

Small Goldfinch Bird Feeder
Small Goldfinch Bird Feeder

Small: https://amzn.to/3hXJM7E

What do goldfinches eat? Thistle.
What do goldfinches eat in the garden?

What is the best food for Goldfinches to eat in your garden?

Not wanting to mess with the mess of a feeder? You can plant in your garden to attract the finches, the only catch is that the feeding window is fairly short (a few weeks to a few months).

Goldfinches love sunflowers, but traditional sunflowers, not the Mammoth Sunflowers. Remember, they’re small creatures so their seed also has to be small, or smaller. Plant traditional sunflowers that will still produce seed.

For example we recommend this smaller variety, the Short Stuff Sunflower, from Baker Creek whose flower head only gets 8″ across. Cross-compare that with the Titan Sunflower, that has a head that’s 24″ across, and you can see what we mean about seed size.

Also, Goldfinches love any kind of thistle. This Safflower variety grows very well in the heat and doesn’t get overwhelming large or invasive. But really any kind of small seeds will do.

And last but not least, you very well may not want to plant this in your garden, but dandelion seeds are also a favorite. Small seeds that are easy to find and graze on for the small birds, will bring them to your garden – they just might also take over your lawn and garden too.

Bonus Content: American Goldfinch Song


  1. American Goldfinch
  2. Get Gorgeous Goldfinches!
  3. How to Attract More Goldfinches to Your Backyard
  4. The Goldfinch
  5. American Goldfinch
  6. What Human Foods Can Finches Eat That Are Healthy For Them?
  7. Goldfinch
  8. Guizotia abyssincia (Nyjer Seed)

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