Anybody that sets out a smorgasbord of food for the birds wintering in their backyards can tell you that, for no apparent reason, the numbers of American goldfinches they feed from year to year can vary widely. Let’s take a close look at this apparent dilemma and see if there is an explanation for this odd phenomenon.
Studies have shown that nationwide, on an average, those of us that feed birds during the month of January will see an average of 10 American goldfinches at our feeders on a regular basis. However, some years flocks of upward of 100 or more American goldfinches descend on our feeders. Likewise, in other years, if you are like me, you do not come close to hosting even 10 birds.
The answer to this mystery is linked to the goldfinch’s breeding and winter ranges and average January temperatures.
The American goldfinch has a large breeding range that extends in a broad band that sweeps across southern Canada and the northern two-thirds of the contiguous United States.
In Georgia, American goldfinches breed throughout much of the state with the exception of the southeastern slice of the state.
Meanwhile, the bird’s winter range encompasses its breeding range and the entire South.
However, some years American goldfinches breeding in the northern portion of their breeding range might not migrate at all. However, if food supplies are inadequate and/or winter temperatures average 0˚F or below, many will take wing and migrate upwards of 1,000 or more miles southward to escape the cold and locate food.
In comparison, during a normal winter our homegrown American goldfinches stay pretty close to home each. When this occurs, we are likely to see few goldfinches feeding on nyger and sunflower seeds in our backyards.
That being said, it is apparent the only way we can predict whether we are going to host a lot of American goldfinches at our feeders this winter is to watch the weather reports for those parts of the continent north of Georgia.