The adult goldfinch is a small striking finch with a black and white head and an unmistakable red face. Their wings are black and white with a broad yellow wing bar and their tail is black with white spots. The goldfinch’s ivory-coloured bill is triangular and is longer than other finches to allow them to reach more inaccessible seeds.
Goldfinches are widespread in gardens, parks, woodland, heathland and farmland. They are a gregarious species and are often seen in flocks foraging for seeding thistles and herbs in winter. They can be heard ‘chatting’ excitedly to one another, with a pleasing, skipping ‘tickelitt’ or ‘telitt’ sound, or a simple monosyllabic ‘litt’. With its striking colours and melodic song, the goldfinch was favoured as a cage bird. These attributes also mean that they are prone to poaching during their migration.
- Length 12-14cm
- Wingspan 21-25cm
- Weight: 14-19g
- Average Lifespan: 1-2 years
Classified in the UK as Green under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Goldfinches can be found in most lowland areas of Scotland and are only absent from the Highlands. Numbers have been increasing on the Isles of Islay, Colonsay and Mull but only since the 1990s. Scottish goldfinches are both resident and migrant, meaning that a proportion of the UK breeding population migrates each autumn to more favourable wintering grounds to the south, typically in France, Portugal and Spain.
When to see
April – October
- The collective noun for a group of goldfinches is a ‘charm’; this is easy to remember, as when seen in flocks of 30-50, they are absolutely ‘charming’ to watch.
- The Anglo Saxon name for the goldfinch was ‘thistle-tweaker’, underlining their preference for the seeds of teasel and thistle. The goldfinch is the only UK bird able to extract teasel seeds from their narrow seed heads.