The European Goldfinch
|Carduelis carduelis, at least 11 subspecies|
Other common namesBritish Goldfinch, Eastern Goldfinch, Eurasian Goldfinch, European Goldfinch, Goldfinch, Thistle-finch
Area of distributionEurope, northern Africa, central Asia; has also been introduced into USA, Bermuda, Uruguay and NE Argentina, Australia, New Zealand.
- C. c. britannica: Britain, Channel Islands, Netherlands
- C. c. parva: Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands, Spain, SW France, Balearic Islands, Morocco, N Algeria, N Tunisia, N Libya
- C. c. tschusii: Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily
- C. c. balcanica: Romania south to Thrace, Greece, Crete, Albania, S Yugoslavia
- C. c. niediecki: Rhodes, Karpathos, Cyprus, Turkey, N Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon
- C. c. major: W Siberia to Altai mountains and Yenisei River, south to Semipalatinsk
- C. c. brevirostris: Crimea & Caucasus to NE Turkey & NW Iran
- C. c. loudoni: S Caucasus and N Iran
- C. c. paropanisi: SE Iran through Afghanistan, Central Asia east to China
- C. c. subulata: Siberia, NW Mongolia, southern Altai ranges
- C. c. caniceps: Central Asia, S Turkmenia & Tadzhikstan to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, W Himalayas and Nepal
DispositionThese birds may get along better with their own species than with other species, but can be amicable in a mixed collection. However, because some birds may become aggressive, they need to be evaluated on an individual pair basis.
Physical descriptionsThe European Goldfinch's beak is very pointed, designed for probing into thistle blossoms. The beak is horn colored and the tip becomes black in the winter. The back of head and nape of neck are black; the forehead and throat are red; the cheeks, lower neck, and underside are white; the back is a deep chestnut brown; the wings are black with yellow markings; and the tail is black and white; legs are pinkish brown. Several mutations exist, including agate, agate brown, albino, aminet, brown, dilute, eumo, ino, ino-not, isabel, opal, pearl, pastel, silver pastel, satinette, tawny, white, white-headed, white-throated, yellow.
The most Eastern races (C. c. paropanisi, C. c. subulata, C. c. caniceps) are grey-headed where the black on the head and brown of much of the body is replaced by a pale grey.
Juveniles are generally pale brown with some dark streaking or spotting on the head, back, chest, and flanks; the wings are similar to the adult's but have buff-brown feather tips instead of white on the coverts, tertials, and flight feathers. Juveniles molt into their red-face coloring during their first winter molt (August-September).
SexingThe sexes appear very similar, but the cock may have more red on his head (the red will extend beyond the eye whereas in the hen it extends only to the eye), appear slightly larger overall, and have a more pointed beak than the hen. Cocks have black rictal bristles (small/fine feathers closest to the gape of the bill), whereas the hen has brown/light rictal bristles. The hen tends to have browner wings and a browner rump, as well as a more narrow and paler yellow band across the wings. Both sexes sing, although the male's song is fuller.
SongSong is most typically performed from the end of February to mid-July and again from late September to December; it is described as pleasant, fluid, and canary-like. Song clip (.mp3, .18 MB)
PicturesIf you keep this species and have a photo of your birds to share, please submit your photo for possible inclusion on this site! Credit will be given to you.
Favorite foodsMilk Thistle seed, green food (e.g. dandelion, clover, chickweed, cucumber), insectivorous food, canary seed mix (Canary seed, Niger, Poppy, Rape seed, Linseed).
Natural habitatThe grasslands, weedy meadows, open woodlands, plantations, orchards, parks, and gardens of Europe, Central Asia, and North Africa.
HabitsOutside of the breeding season, goldfinches roam in flocks which may contain about 100 birds. Although some birds remain sedentary, many will migrate south for winter starting in late September to early November, returning to breed in March/April.
Special considerationsHailing from temperate climates, European Goldfinches tend to be hardy enough to overwinter outdoors provided they are acclimiated and given shelter from strong winds and storms. They tend to be destructive to plants in their enclosure.
These birds can hybridize with domestic canaries, Serinus canaria domestica, (often intentionally to form singing 'mules') and must be close banded to be offered for sale in Britain and the U.S. Hybrids (some fertile) have also occurred between European Goldfinches and the: Cut-throat Finch Amadina fasciata, Grey-crowned Goldfinch Carduelis caniceps, Zebra Finch Taeniopygia guttata, Common Redpoll Carduelis flammea, European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris, Chaffinch Fingilla coelebs, Eurasian Siskin Carduelis spinus, Red Siskin Carduelis cucullata, Hooded Siskin Carduelis magellanica, Black-headed Siskin Carduelis notata, Grey-capped Greenfinch Carduelis sinica, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch Carduelis spinoides, American Goldfinch Carduelis tristis, Eurasian Linnet Carduelis cannabina, Twite Carduelis flavirostris, Hoary Redpoll Carduelis hornemanni, Black Siskin Carduelis atrata, Yellow Canary Serinus flaviventris, White-rumped Seedeater Serinus leucopygius, Yellow-fronted Canary Serinus mozambicus, Tibetan Serin Serinus thibetanus, Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus, House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus, Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra, Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula.
European Goldfinches may be prone to scaly leg mite (Knemidocoptes) but do not appear to be prone to obesity even when fed a diet rich in oily seeds.
Breeding seasonSpring (in Europe).
Breeding tipsThis species may breed in an aviary, sufficiently sized wire cage, or a large flight cage, although they seem to prefer well-planted aviaries. Toward the end of winter and early spring, pairs can be introduced to each other and started on a breeding diet about 1 month before breeding commences. They can be bred as pairs, trios, or in colony fashion (provided a large enclosure) and fed a commercial insectivorous diet and/or live food while breeding in addition to soft food, soaked seed, green food, and seed.
Provide a secluded canary nest cup for nesting; nest cup(s) can be surrounded by small conifer branches or clusters of twigs to enhance privacy. Pairs may prefer to nest fairly high in the enclosure, but ensure that the location of the nest is not too close to the roof of the enclosure as parent birds will need room to feed the young from above. If breeding outdoors, ensure that the nest site is sheltered from rain, wind, and excessive heat. Nest materials can include fine rootlets, soft/dry grasses, coconut fiber, soft feathers, and dry moss. The hen will lay a pale blue-green egg with reddish-brown spotting each morning until the clutch is complete. As in canaries, each egg can be removed after it is laid and replaced with a plastic dummy egg; the entire clutch can then be returned to the hen when she lays her last egg (usually when the 4th egg is laid). This ensures all young hatch on the same day and prevents problems of older, larger siblings outcompeting younger ones. Nest inspection is usually tolerated.
Both parents feed the hatchlings and usually remove the chicks' droppings from the rim of the nest until they are closer to fledging age. The hen stops brooding the chicks around 6 days of age. Closed bands can be applied to chicks' legs around 6-7 days of age. Fledging occurs around 11-14 days of age; recently fledged chicks may hide among shrubbery (where available) for about a week and are usually weaned about 14 days after leaving the nest. Juveniles should be left with the parents for 4 weeks from fledging, however, to ensure they are completely weaned.
Remove the spent nest and provide a new receptacle for each clutch; pairs tend to produce 3-4 broods per year. Domestic canaries can be used to foster this species.
|Clutch size:||3-7 eggs (3-5 most common)|
|Incubation:||Done by the hen|
|Hatch date:||After 13 (12-14) days of incubation|
|Fledge date:||At 14 days of age|
|First molt:||Around 4 months of age|
Related Article(s)If you own this species and would like to write an article about your experiences with them for this page, please submit your article for possible inclusion on this site. Credit will be given to you!
- Il Cardellino - Photos of males, females, chicks, nests, and mutations.
- RSPB A-Z of Birds: Goldfinch - European Goldfinch fact sheet.
- Goldfinch - A historical account by a bird watcher in New Zealand.
- European Goldfinches - A Singing Wings Aviary species profile, including sound clip.
- Photos of mutations