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Keeping and Breeding the European Goldfinch

European GoldfinchHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  The American Goldfinch, Carduelis tristis, is one of North America’s most colorful and beloved birds.  They are, however, protected by law and may not be kept as pets.  However, the closely-related European Goldfinch, C. Carduelis, has long been bred in captivity and has even been crossed with canaries in order to improve their singing abilities. This colorful little acrobat may be legally kept in the USA and is a great choice for folks looking to expand their collections.

Description

The European Goldfinch is similar in size to its American cousin – 5 inches long and stoutly built.  Its head is marked with alternating bands of red, white and black and the wings are banded in brilliant yellow.  These wing bands are most evident in flight, and their sudden appearance usually elicits a gasp of pleasant surprise when seen for the first time.

The red feathers on the male’s face extend to the end of or just beyond the eye; on females the red feathers end at about mid-eye; the sexes are otherwise similar.

A variety of beautiful color mutations, including tawny, yellow, albino and pastel, have been developed by breeders; please see the article below for photos.

Range

The European Goldfinch’s huge range extends from the UK to central Russia in the north and from northern Africa to the Himalayas in the south.  Introduced populations are established in Argentina, Uruguay, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere.  Strays occasionally turn up in the USA.

Keeping European Goldfinches

European Goldfinches may be housed and bred in large indoor flight cages.  Their active lifestyles and acrobatic abilities also render them as ideal candidates for outdoor aviaries.  They get along well with a variety of birds, including similarly-sized finches and Painted Quails, but breeding pairs will fight with other Goldfinches.

European Goldfinch feedingBoth sexes sing, with the male’s song being richer and more complicated than the female’s.  It really is quite pleasant; please listen to the video below. European Goldfinches are sometimes mated to Canaries in order to add variety to the song of the latter. They will also breed with Linnets and Siskins, to which they are related (the Red Hooded Siskin, also popular among finch specialists, is responsible for the red factor Canaries we know today; please see article below).

Diet

A high grade finch seed mix can serve as the basis of your European Goldfinch’s diet.  Thistle seed is considered to be of great value by European breeders, and nyger seed is a favorite.  Millet sprays hung from perches will keep both you and your birds occupied and entertained for hours.

Small live insects (mealworms, waxworms, crickets), Egg Food and Softbill Pellets should be provided several times weekly; silkworms and other canned insects may be used to add variety to the diet.

Fresh sprouts, carrot tops and small amounts of chopped spinach, dandelion, romaine and other greens will round out the diet.

Increased amounts of protein-based foods and fresh produce are essential during the breeding season and for parents with chicks.

Grit and cuttlebone should always be available.

Breeding

European Goldfinch NestBreeding may occur in a large indoor cage but is more common in outdoor aviaries or bird rooms.

Males court prospective mates by swaying back and forth while beating their wings in a most amusing manner.  A commercial canary nest, set as high as possible within their cage, will usually be accepted.  Dried sphagnum moss or commercial nesting material should be available throughout the nesting season.

An average clutch contains 3-7 eggs which hatch in approximately 14 days.  The young fledge at 2 weeks of age.  Thereafter they are fed, primarily by the male, until achieving full independence.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.  Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. 

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

Further Reading

Video: European Goldfinch singing

Photos of European Goldfinch color morphs

Keeping Red-Hooded Siskins

European Goldfinch feeding image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by MPF
European Goldfinch Nest image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by bukk

18 comments

  1. avatar

    at what age do the young goldfinches start to sing at.

  2. avatar

    Hi ian,

    Approximately 1 year of age in the wild, but captives may mature several months earlier.

    best, Frank

  3. avatar

    i have a pair of finches european
    they’r butiful wanted to breed them, not sure how
    can tips some advirse?
    thank you

  4. avatar

    Hi Suzzie,

    Glad you are interested in these gorgeous birds.

    Breeding is most likely in an outdoor aviary or extremely large indoor cage (see article for links)…they need room and security; even if they are otherwise content, most pairs will not breed in typical cages. Commercial canary nests should be provided, and placed as high as possible. Hanging artificial plants positioned in front of the nests may help them to feel secure; sphagnum moss should be available as extra nesting material.

    Exposure to a natural light cycle is helpful, and extra live food and sprouts provided in spring will help bring them into breeding condition. Canned insects may also be used. Some breeders keep the pairs separated until early spring, then introduce slowly.

    Please keep me posted, enjoy, Frank

  5. avatar

    Hi, could u please tell me at what age can a goldfinch female and male can breed ? Is. Possible to breed them in the first year?

  6. avatar

    Hello Abdel,

    They become sexually mature at approximately 1 year of age, sometimes a bit earlier (for captives). Please keep me posted, best, frank

  7. avatar

    Hi,

    I have a pair of gold finch kept in a big outside cage made by covering the outside window. Plenty of sunshine and natural plant placed. They are in with few pair of gouldians. But male female always fight when they are close to each other. i have kept a canary nest camouflaged with the plant leaves.

    need your expert tips and advice for pairing and breeding them

  8. avatar

    Hi,

    Unfortunately there are no easy answers. Outdoor caging is best, but pairs mat still not come into breeding condition at the same time, especially if they are being kept outside of their natural range. Mate choice comes into play..not all are compatible. An abundance of novel seeds and insects offered as spring arrives may help, as will ample space, plenty of cover and nesting material. The presence of other birds can impede breeding, even if there is no aggression. Ideal conditions..plenty of insects, room, etc., and the lack of possible competition (other finches), as well as the proper light/temperature cycle is important in bringing them into condition, but mate choice is always a factor, Best, Frank

  9. avatar

    Hi.
    I came by ur article trying to find a solution for my case. I used to raise canary birds and breed them and i am an experienced breeder. Also i raised some european goldfinches untill lately i wanted to try to breed them in cage. i supplied them with all the materials they need and placed them in a very calm place in a big cage. The couple seems to be intrested in eachother and i know that both are in breeding condition. the female started building the nest 6 days ago and now the nest looks complete and i can say that it is the most beautiful nest ive ever seen. but i dont know when she will lay eggs and i am concerned about the timing specially that ive never seen the couple mating. So i would be happy if u can supply me with some extra information about the time required after finishing the nest so that the hen can lay her eggs and when do they mate ? thank you very much.

  10. avatar

    Hello Elias,

    It’s difficult to predict the timing because captive conditions – light cycles, temperature etc. change birds’ natural hormonal flow, breeding cycles. Mating is very quick, so it’s easy to miss. As with canaries, egg-bindng will be evident; other wise, best to just give them time. Best, frank

  11. avatar

    thank you. i think ill just wait and ill let u know what will happen.

  12. avatar

    My pleasure..yes, pleasse keep me posted, enjoy, Frank

  13. avatar

    Thanx for putting this together Frank. One of my 2 pairs have nested at thge top of the aviary (our screened deck) and the female is now setting. We lost the last 2 clutches (nests in low plants) to rat snakes. We’re hoping for the best this time. I’ll let you now. Cheers/dick

  14. avatar

    Hi Dick,

    Nice to hear from you…I miss working with these, and am jealous of your having rat snakes to worry about – definitely need to move south! I look forward to good news…

    Enjoy, and my best to Patti, Frank

  15. avatar

    hi frank, i have just had 2 goldfinches, cock and hen and they are 1 year old, i put them in a double breeding cage.the date is 1/8/14 is it to late for them to breed.

  16. avatar

    Hello Eddie,

    Captives are usually not so closely-tied to the seasons as are wild birds, so there is a chance. I hope all goes well, please keep me posted, Frank

  17. avatar

    hi frank,thankyou for the last reply to my question, as i asked if the 2 golfincges would breed this year, but now i am concerned about the 2 young goldfinches being brother and sister, is there any way i can tell if they are brother and sister. thankyou. eddie

  18. avatar

    Hello Eddie,

    My pleasure. Other than by genetic testing, no way to determine relationship. Always good to mix breeders, but a first cross should not be a problem…if possible, check with your source as to their history…if the line is already inbred, then it would be best to avoid crossing siblings, best, Frank

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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