Since starting my bird feeding hobby a couple of years ago I have had lot of goldfinch activity in my garden. I love watching them; they are so colourful. I know that tits will nest in bird boxes or bird houses and I have seen some success. But what about the Goldfinch? Do they nest in bird houses? Where do they like to nest?
Usually only birds that are cavity nesters will use bird houses or boxes in which to build a nest. Goldfinches are not cavity nesters, they prefer to build their nests in trees and hedgerows. It is very unlikely that Goldfinches will choose to take up residence in a bird house.
Do Other Finches Nest In Bird Houses?
Unfortunately this whole cavity nesting thing extends to many other types of finch also. In parts of America and Canada there is the House Finch, which I believe is known to use a bird house, if it is the correct type. They will also build their nests in trees and thick shrubs.
It is generally the case that, certainly here in the UK, finches of any kind do not use bird houses of nesting boxes.
Where Do Goldfinches Nest?
If Goldfinches do not use bird houses then, where do they nest? Gold finches are normally found in small, loose colonies. As Goldfinches are not cavity nesters their colonies will likely be found in the branches of taller, thicker shrubs, higher up in tree branches or in more dense hedgerows.
Goldfinches like to build their nests at least 4 – 10 feet high and use a number of vertical branches as a framework in which to weave their nest. As they are often nesting in thick shrubbery and hedgerows, take care if you decide to do any annual maintenance – you may be lucky enough to come across a nest!
How Do Goldfinches Build Their Nests?
The nest built by a Goldfinch is a well constructed cup-shaped structure. It is typically no larger than a large orange or a small grapefruit. As with most bird species, it is the female who builds the nest. She will tightly weave leaves, moss grass and lichen to form an almost watertight bowl. Lichen is the leafy, flaky moss like growth often seen on tree bark.
It can take the female Goldfinch a week to build her nest and she will line it with insulating material, such as plant down, wool or other available material. When I used to brush my dog in the garden, his soft under fur was a popular choice for the garden birds, who would collect it to line their nests.
The Best Goldfinch Nesting Material
While building a nest Goldfinches will be on the look out for suitable materials to use. While it is normally the female that does the building, the male Goldfinch will often be the one bringing her the materials.
A good way to attract Goldfinches to your garden (and other birds for that matter) is to leave some suitable nesting material out for them to find. I have found the best way to attract Goldfinches to my garden is to put out niger seed in a niger seed feeder.
Of course you can buy nesting material for Goldfinches and other birds to see if they take it. This can be an expensive way to go and I wouldn’t bother, unless you are housing the birds in some kind of aviary. For wild Goldfinches and other garden birds, whatever naturally occurring materials will suffice. Some examples include:
Feathers – All birds have them so they must be useful, right? We even use them in our bedding. Discarded feathers from other birds can provide a soft, warm and sometimes water resistant coating to a nest. If nothing else, they have a large overall surface area and will help with the construction of a nest.
Lichen – This stuff is technically described as a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi species in a mutualistic relationship. In every day terms, lichen is the stuff you see on peeling tree bark and branches. It either looks like flat, crusty leafy structures, tiny leafless strands or dry flakes that lie flat on the surface like peeling paint.
Moss – A staple for any nest building bird. Moss is soft, readily available and provides insulation around a nest.
Wool – The kind of wool a bird is likely to take for their nest is discarded sheep wool caught on a fence somewhere in the country. I was going to joke about leaving knitting wool in your garden but actually, a few thin strands might be just what they are looking for!
Bird Nesting Material We Can Provide
Some materials that we can make available for Goldfinches and the like could really help them build a strong and warm nest. It’s interesting to see which they take and which they leave. Nesting materials we can provide include:
I already mentioned dog hair – my Labrador, like all others, had two coats; a hairy outer coat and a softer, more fluffy undercoat. I started to notice the smaller garden birds would find it and take clumps of it away. From that point, after brushing the dog I left a small amount of his fur on the grass and binned the rest. Cat hair, clumps of fur from a hamster cage, or anything else that is similar will be fine.
As previously mentioned, if you do not have fluffy wool in any form, a few strands of thin wool or twine-like material could be a material of choice to help weave twigs together around a nest. You could even consider pulling apart the individual strands of some twine or knitting wool. This way the birds can choose from easier to manage pieces.
Similar to strands of wool, cotton is thin and easy to weave into any structure. Some convenient lengths of cotton left out could really help the birds in their search for nesting materials.
Do Finches Need Nesting Material
The obvious answer is – yes they do. Otherwise, how will they build a nest? It’s a bit like asking if a builder needs materials to build a house. However, when we talk about nesting material and we ask if birds need it, we are really asking – should we provided nesting material? It can be a good idea to leave some bits and bobs around the garden to see if the birds take them.
Goldfinches and other birds will easily find suitable material with which they can build their nest. However, the things they easily find are often those things we leave behind, whether we know it or not. After a Blackbird had left her nest, built in our Honeysuckle climber against a fence, I got curious so went for a look. I was surprised at what i saw.
The nest was mainly small twigs, which I had watched her pulling through the thin branches of the Honeysuckle. What I didn’t expect to see were, woven amongst the twigs, mud and moss were strands of thin plastic – the type you get at the top of a bin bag. Also short length of twine as well as some thin cellophane pieces. We have heard a lot recently about how bad for the planet plastic is but this was a great example of recycling!
This goes to show how nesting birds will use just about anything they can find, within reason, that will benefit their nests. We feed them throughout the year, so why not leave out a few extras to help them along when it comes to nesting season.
Where Do Goldfinches Go For The Winter?
I have seen Goldfinches in my garden all year round, even in winter. It can depend on where you live as to whether they stay or leave for the winter months. After they have successfully raised their brood, Goldfinches are known to live in social groups. They are often seen in flocks as they move around the area. It could be a particular flock decided to travel for the winter in search of a warmer climate. This is not always the case, though.
Do Goldfinches Migrate From The UK In Winter?
It is not unusual for Goldfinches to migrate in winter. It is not always the case but if you notice less of them about through the winter months they may have done just that. Many European Goldfinch flocks migrate towards the Mediterranean for the winter; many UK Goldfinches reaching as far south as Spain.