The Washington State bird is the American Goldfinch – a common and welcomed bird at feeders, where it primarily consumes Nyjer and sunflower seeds! These birds are small finches with short, conical bills, short, notches tails, small heads, and long wings.
Washington is a Pacific Northwestern U.S. state whose terrain consists of arid farmland, dense forests, ocean coast, and mountain ranges. The capital of the state is Olympia. It’s a large state with a population of 7.73 million people and a 71,362 sq mile size.
If you want to attract these birds to your yard, you’re in luck! American Goldfinches will feed from almost every kind of bird feeder, including hanging feeders, hopper feeders, and platform feeders.
You may have experienced that some birds don’t like to use feeders that sway in the wind; American Goldfinches don’t mind at all! You may also find that these birds are happy to feed below feeders on the ground, eating spilled seeds. Additionally, planting composite plants like native thistles and native milkweed is another excellent way to attract them.
The American Goldfinch became a state bird of Washington in 1951.
In 1928, legislators let schoolchildren choose the state bird for Washington, and the meadowlark was the winner. It was a solid choice, but at that time, 7 other states had already chosen the meadowlark. Another vote was taken by the Washington Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1931.
Many other birds were nominated, including the Song Sparrow, Tanager, Pileated Woodpecker, and Junco. The American Goldfinch won this vote. Now, Washington had 2 state birds, and the Legislature decided again to let the schoolchildren have the final say. In 1951, they voted for the Goldfinch, and the Legislature officially made the American Goldfinch Washingtons state bird.
American Goldfinches inhabit open floodplains, weedy fields, and other overgrown areas that have some trees and shrubs for nesting and thistle, sunflower, and aster plants for food. American Goldfinches are also commonly seen in backyards, parks, and suburbs.
These birds are relatively easy to spot throughout much of North America. They’re most abundant near feeders and in areas with thistle plants. In addition, the po-ta-to-chip call they produce in flight draws attention to them.
Facts about The American Goldfinch
- American Goldfinches are one of the most strict vegetarian bird species; they opt for a completely vegetable diet and only accidentally swallow an insect occasionally.
- The American Goldfinch is the state bird of Washington, Iowa, and New Jersey. In Iowa and New Jersey, it’s called the “eastern goldfinch.” In Washington, it’s called the “willow goldfinch.”
- The oldest recorded American Goldfinch lived to be at least 10 years and 9 months old. It was initially captured during banding operations and recaptured and rereleased in Maryland during additional banding operations.
- American Goldfinches are usually monogamous and have one brood per breeding season.
- American Goldfinch nests are commonly raided by Brown-headed Cowbirds who lay eggs next to the American Goldfinch eggs. However, the Cowbird nestlings rarely survive longer than a few days because they can’t survive on the seed diet that American Goldfinches feed their young.
Adult male American Goldfinches are bright yellow overall and have black wings with white markings, black foreheads, and white splotches both above and below the tail in spring and early summer. In the winter, they’re duller, unstreaked brown, and have blackish wings with two dull wing bars.
These birds are 4.3 to 5.1 inches (11 to 13 centimeters) long, weigh 0.4 to 0.7 ounces (11 to 20 grams), and have a wingspan of 7.5 to 8.7 inches (19 to 22 centimeters).
Adult female American Goldfinches look very different from breeding male American Goldfinches. They’re olive above and pale yellow below. Winter birds are dull as well and are unstreaked brown. Their wings are blackish with two faint wing bars. They’re the same size and length and have the same wingspan as breeding males. They also weigh the same amount.
Juvenile American Goldfinches are a dull yellow below, brown above, buff on the sides, and dark wings with two buffy wing bars.
Male American Goldfinches have various, long series of warbles and twitters that can last several seconds. The phrases and notes also vary and seem to repeat in a random order. These birds continue to learn new song patterns throughout their entire life.
This bird’s most common call is a contact call that they usually produce in flight. It sounds like they’re quietly saying po-ta-to-chip.
American Goldfinches also give rough threat calls when at their nest or in feeding flocks. Male birds make a tee-yee courtship call during the breeding season when near a female. They usually follow this courtship call with a burst of song. Females caring for nestlings are known to make a quick sequence of high-pitched notes when they hear their mate coming to the nest with food.
Birds that feel threatened, make a two-parted, loud bay-bee call if they feel threatened. This is usually when birds are protecting their nest.
American Goldfinches are very acrobatic and active birds. It’s not uncommon to see them balancing on the seedheads of plants like dandelions and thistles to pluck seeds.
In addition, they have an energetic flight where they often make their po-ta-to-chip calls. Although male American Goldfinches sing cheerfully during spring, mated pairs nest in mid-summer, when weeds like thistles have gone to seed.