10.30.22: Young goldfinch

An immature American Goldfinch dines on thistle in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

An immature American Goldfinch dines on thistle in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

Tech specs

  • Date/time: Sep 20, 2014 9:33 AM   
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D
  • Lens: EF600mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x 
  • Focal length: 840mm
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter: 1/500 second
  • ISO: 400

Buff markings on wings ease identification

I typically see baby and immature birds during late spring and summer.

But the American Goldfinch is different. Goldfinches breed later in the year than most other birds. They wait to nest until milkweed, thistle, and other plants have produced their seeds, which goldfinches use for building nests and to feed their young. Courtship begins in late July and I typically start seeing juvenile goldfinches in the fields in September. 

I shot this immature goldfinch feeding on a thistle on a September morning in Sharon Woods Metro Park north of Columbus, Ohio.

The color of the plumage separates the immature goldfinch from an adult. While the adult male is bright yellow during breeding season and a dull olive-brown in the fall and winter and the female carries a brownish tone year round, both have white markings on the wings and tail. The immature American Goldfinch has a dull brown back and pale yellow underside with dull black shoulders and tail. But the markings on the wing and tail are buff-colored, rather than white like on an adult goldfinch.

American Goldfinches molt their body feathers twice a year, once in late winter and once in late summer. Molting twice a year makes the American Goldfinch unique in the goldfinch family.  

It’s a sure sign of warmer weather when male American Goldfinches molt to their bright yellow breeding plumage each spring.

Goldfinches are also strict vegetarians, selecting a diet entirely of seeds and other non-protein foods. That’s bad news for Brown-headed Cowbirds that lay eggs in other bird’s nest and leave them to be raised by the other species. When a cowbird lays eggs in an American Goldfinch nest, the egg may hatch but the baby seldom survives longer than a few days. It can’t survive on the all-seed diet that goldfinches feed their young.

Although goldfinches are plentiful in the area during summer and fall, they are still difficult to photograph. The birds blend with colors in the fields each season, which makes them difficult to see. And when one bird is startled and flies off, it’s joined by hundreds of others. So it takes quite a bit of patience to photograph goldfinch.


The immature American Goldfinch has a dull brown back and pale yellow underside with dull black shoulders and tail. But the markings on the wing and tail are buff-colored, rather than white like on an adult goldfinch.

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