How to Care for a Goldfinch? Complete Guide for New Owners

Translated by Nick R

If you’re here is because you’re probably interested in adopting a pet bird, and let me tell you, there’s no better companion than a goldfinch. In the following paragraphs you’ll learn all about keeping this beautiful little animal at home, so join me!

Why adopt a goldfinch? 

It’s normal to find songbirds and particularly goldfinches in homes since they are animals with very interesting qualities that place them on the podium of ideal pets.

5 reasons to adopt a goldfinch 

  • Their beautiful song is captivating. I can promise you that you’ll be amazed by their combination of high and low notes.
  • They are birds that adapt very well to captivity.
  • Because of their affable and cheerful character.
  • They are very intelligent birds that you can train.
  • They have a very varied diet; it will not be a problem to feed them.

Characteristics and behavior of goldfinches 

Goldfinch characteristics 

Scientific Name Carduelis carduelis
Nombre comúnGoldfinch
Place of OriginEurope, Asia, and North Africa
HabitatPalearctic Region
Size11 cm to 13,5 cm
Weight12g – 20g
Average sexual and reproductive age12 months
Life expectancy in captivity7 to 10 years

The goldfinch or also called cardinal is a passerine bird, a member of the fringillid family. It is widely distributed and can naturally be found in the Palearctic, an ecozone encompassing Europe, North Africa, and western Asia.

The goldfinch has been domesticated since ancient times, mainly due to its cheerful song, and can be seen in the wild and in homes in countries such as the United States and Australia. It can usually be seen in the following habitats typical of the northern part of the planet:

  • Forests.
  • Groves.
  • Countryside.
  • Agricultural areas.

The appearance of the goldfinch 

The goldfinch is a very small songbird with a size ranging between 12 and 13.5 cm and weighing between 14-20 grams.

As for its appearance, the goldfinch shows an unmistakable variety of colors. Above all, because it is a “masked” bird, since it has a very evident and characteristic red mask. Surrounding its mask, it has brownish sides of the lightest shade with black stripes around the eyes and on its head.

Other distinctive features of the species are the black feathers with yellow bands and white spots on the tips of its wings.

The goldfinch has a tapered, tapering, pinkish-white beak adapted for feeding on seeds. It has brown eyes, and its feet and tarsi are flesh-colored, similar in color to its beak.

Difference between male and female goldfinches 

The female goldfinch is hardly different from the male, as this species has a very slight dimorphism that can only be seen if you get very close. If you “zoom in ” on the face, you can see that the male’s mask is a little longer.

Life expectancy of the goldfinch 

A species with a fairly long life expectancy in captivity, your goldfinch can live up to a maximum of 10 years normally, but depending on your care up to 12 years.

Wild behavior of the European Goldfinch 

Goldfinches in the wild travel long distances, making them partial migrants. That is, goldfinches travel in flocks from the north to the south temporarily; in the winter they are located in the Mediterranean area.

Goldfinches are songbirds and one of the best at it. They like to sing when the good weather arrives, that is to say, when the winter is over, during the whole spring and part of the summer.

Although they can be found in solitary, goldfinches are sociable birds that normally live in flocks or groups of 6 individuals. They also fly in groups of up to 100 individuals in winter, when they temporarily travel to North Africa and the Mediterranean in search of better conditions.

The goldfinch reaches sexual maturity at approximately 12 months of age. It’s a monogamous and faithful bird, once committed, it lives all its life with its “wife”.

The breeding season of the goldfinch begins in late March and often takes place twice a year. Females may lay a total of seven eggs in the breeding season.

They are moderately territorial, but be careful in the breeding season, as she will guard her young chicks, demonstrating a certain protective and territorial behavior.

Domestic behavior of the European Goldfinch 

Goldfinches love freedom 

They are very active birds that in their natural habitat migrate from one continent to another. If you have them at home, you’ll notice that they’ll try to fly out of their cage frequently. So flying freely will be paramount to its health.

Goldfinches like to be under the covers 

Unlike other birds, it breeds not once but twice a year, at the beginning of spring. Therefore, it’s necessary for it to be accompanied by a female, which will be its only mate until it dies.

Goldfinches are innate singers 

They are songbirds, thus they will rock your house with their musical notes coming from their joyful singing. In fact, just like canaries, they have been domesticated for this reason. In that sense, if you really want to brighten up your home with one of the best voices in the world, they are your ideal pet.

Keep them together with their own species 

Goldfinches are social birds, so don’t leave them alone and adopt at least 2 or 4 goldfinches at the same time. Mixing them with canaries is not recommended because they will lose their original and beautiful song and will end up imitating the song of their yellow companions.

Be patient with your goldfinch 

The first days in captivity will be difficult for your goldfinch. You must be patient and careful in your treatment to avoid scaring him; especially in the first week, in which your little friend is adapting to his new home.

That’s not all, continue reading…

Ideal housing and space for your goldfinch 

Home environment 

The ideal accommodation to maintain the goldfinch’s good quality of life in captivity is fundamental; as you know, it’s a migratory bird that travels long distances. The external environment should be spacious and out of danger. If you have cats, train them so that they can coexist with your goldfinch or do not have other pets that can harm them since they will spend a good part of their day outside their cage.

On the other hand, provide a quiet environment where they can sing without any problem. Remember that, like most birds, no matter how sociable they are, they don’t like overconfidence and noise.

Additionally, keep their environment well ventilated, being careful of drafts that are harmful to the goldfinch and any bird. Drafts are in many cases the cause of illnesses such as colds.

Be especially careful with light and temperature. The light should not be excessive or direct and keep the temperature balanced without sudden changes.

Cage equipment for goldfinches 


The cage has to have ample space, both horizontally and vertically, to allow them to fly freely. In this sense, the ideal cage for a goldfinch should have the following dimensions (approximately): height 155.5 cm x depth 63.5 cm x width 66.5 cm.

The ideal cage for goldfinches according to the experience of friendly owners (what my friend Marcela and my friend Santiago told me), obviously considering the number of birds and the space in your home, is a skyline, which is one of the most spacious cages in the market with enough height for your goldfinch to fly without restrictions.

If you have several goldfinches, I recommend a skyline XXL cage, the largest on the market with the following dimensions: 118cm wide x 75cm deep x 175cm high.

If your house has enough space or a terrace and you plan to have more than two goldfinches, you can also purchase a mobile cage with the above features.


It is preferable to buy an outdoor cage that can be moved.

Basic cage accessories 

The following are the 10 basic accessories, which should not be missing in their cage:

  1. A base substrate not based on newspaper, which can be toxic because of the ink, but Kraft Paper or a vegetable one based on corn.
  2. Mineral and natural perches are the branches or sticks where your goldfinch stands and jumps. Perches should be 100% wood, either purchased or collected in a forest.
  3. Feeding platforms that should be made of wood, never plastic or other material.
  4. Ceramic food bowls, which will serve as a container to put their food.
  5. Ceramic drinkers will be their source of hydration.
  6. Bathing place (plastic or ceramic, never metallic).
  7. Foraging tray to encourage foraging; a natural activity of birds consisting of searching, selecting, and manipulating food or substrate.
  8. Ladders with natural materials, which serve to exercise their legs and climb.
  9. Calcifying gravel for the bottom of the cage, very important because it avoids bad odors and bacteria.
  10. Toys are a must.

Additional accessories for goldfinches 

Toys are a way to exercise their mind and body, it has been shown that birds like the goldfinch learn very fast, in fact, they can solve problems. For that reason, you must provide them with challenging toys, here are some of them:

  • Bells.
  • Swings for small birds.
  • Mirrors.
  • Rolling toys (better if they have seeds inside).
  • Play center (highly recommended).

Hygiene and Basic Care for your Goldfinch 

Cage cleaning 

First of all, keep in mind that goldfinches are very clean birds, so the hygiene of their home is paramount for their care. The base substrate of the cage must be changed at least 2 or 3 times a week to avoid diseases and keep your bird’s well-being.

Feeders and drinkers should be changed every day and deeply cleaned once a week to avoid parasites. Also, never leave food residues in the cage for a long time, prevent them from rotting and remove them at the same time you clean the feeders and drinkers daily.

Finally, it’s very important to perform a thorough monthly cleaning, and while you do it, keep your little friends away from the cleaning area. Never use detergents or other products that could cause irritation or affect your goldfinch’s respiratory tract.

Bathing the Goldfinch 

Everyone needs a bath from time to time and goldfinches are no exception, so taking into account that they are a very neat bird and that bathing is good against mites, a regular bath 2 or 3 times a week minimum will be necessary.

It also depends on your friend’s character, some like to bathe every day, so you won’t have any problems, while others only once a week and you will have to take him to the bathing place yourself. The water should be lukewarm and contain a couple of drops of apple cider vinegar to avoid parasites.

Beak, paws and claws grooming 

The beak, feet and claws are so important in a bird’s lifestyle that you can’t neglect them in any way.

The beak naturally wears out on objects in its natural habitat. But… In captivity? Well, in captivity you must provide foraging objects and toys to help wear out its beak and prevent it from overgrowing. If these objects are not enough, take him to the vet for a “beakicure”.

As for their paws, keep them moisturized and pay attention if they have an exaggerated scaly appearance.

His claws are very important for their daily life, that is why if they are too long, he can trip or suffer accidents and get hurt.

To avoid this, as with the beak, you must provide good perches and objects that help him to naturally wear down their claws; otherwise, you must cut them yourself very carefully and backlit so as not to cut any veins in the nails. If you definitely don’t dare, you can always take him to the vet.


Last but not least, enrich your goldfinch. Well… What does that mean?

It means that you must offer him a good enriched environment with the company of other goldfinches singing to inspire him to sing, move his cage to another place out of the usual one and offer him harmonious music from time to time. All this will give it well-being and extend its life expectancy.

Feeding of the European Goldfinch 

Suitable food for the goldfinch 

The goldfinch is a granivorous bird and feeds basically on seeds. In its natural habitat, it loves sunflower, wheat, and especially thistle.

This bird’s diet is very varied and it likes a great number of seeds, a point in favor to be one of the preferred birds. Obviously, the basis of their diet should be birdseed as any domestic bird, to which you can add seed preparations, some fruits, and vegetables.

Seeds that you can include in their diet 

  • Rapeseed
  • White lettuce
  • Sesame
  • Linseed
  • Poppy
  • Oats
  • Small hemp
  • Perilla
  • Negrillo

Seeds are good at any time of their life, especially in the breeding season when they need more protein to keep both parents and chicks on their feet.

Some fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, lettuce, apples, or pears are good for their diet and especially in their adult stage as they provide vitamins and minerals needed for wing strength and molting season.

Although goldfinches feed most of their lives on seeds, during the breeding season they can be seen feeding on some insects. Yes, a “bug” once in a while won’t hurt, especially when these little critters are an impressive source of protein.

Prohibited foods for goldfinches 

Never give these foods to your goldfinch:

  • Chocolates cause them to convulse.
  • Watermelon can cause anemia.
  • Avocado can cause intoxication with the fungicide it contains.
  • Garlic and onions are terrible for their digestive system.

Basic health care for goldfinches 

Apart from acariosis, a disease that all birds can suffer from, here are the most common diseases that can affect your goldfinch.

Health ProblemSymptoms and causesWhat to do?
False molting or abnormal moltingIt is a common disease in goldfinches and in most birds. It manifests itself as the bird loses feathers and down outside the normal molting time. It’s due mainly to poor feeding.The way to prevent and treat it is by giving it a nutrient-rich and varied diet, with sufficient water.
PneumoniaThis disease manifests through respiratory symptoms; the bird has difficulty breathing, keeps its beak open, and has mucus in its beak. Drafts and sudden changes in temperature are the causes of the disease.It’s imperative to keep their environment and cage at a balanced temperature and avoid drafts. If symptoms persist, take him to the veterinarian.
CoccidiosisIf your goldfinch has bloody diarrhea, looks thinner and you notice drool overflowing from its beak, it might be coccidiosis. This is a serious disease caused by a protozoan called Phylum Apicomplexa.Turn on the alarms. This disease can cause death in a few days, so take him to the vet immediately. Clean his cage thoroughly.
External ParasitesA nervous goldfinch, which scratches itself too much and loses its feathers more intensely than usual is a sign that it is infected by external parasites.You can prevent it with a proper cleaning, both of the environment and of the goldfinch itself. If it already shows symptoms, take it to the veterinarian to prescribe a deworming agent.
ColibacillosisIt’s a parasitic disease caused by ingestion of food and liquids contaminated with Escherichia coli. Symptoms are drowsiness, diarrhea, and lack of appetite. Again, the general cleanliness of the environment and the goldfinch itself is very important to avoid this disease. If it already has the disease, take it to the veterinarian.

5 signs to know if your goldfinch is sick 

  1. If your goldfinch’s droppings are yellowish, reddish, or black, it’s time to worry. Pay attention to its feces!
  2. Nasal discharge, redness, or nasal inflation are bad symptoms.
  3. Opaque eyes are a very bad symptom, as they could be many diseases.
  4. Tail movements can indicate whether your goldfinch’s health is in good shape or not. The tail muscles help expand the body cavity when breathing in air, showing an up and down movement. If this changes, take it to the veterinarian.
  5. Behavioral changes such as lack of appetite, tiredness, not singing, no mood, and remaining the beak open are very bad signs.

What you didn’t know about goldfinches 

Goldfinches are smarter than you think 

It has been shown through various experiments in scientific research that goldfinches are much smarter than one might think. In fact, among the most relevant comparative experiments on the nervous system of mammals and birds, it was evidenced that they are capable of learning, remembering and solving problems.

Types of goldfinch song 

The song of goldfinches has appealed to humans so much that there is already a singing contest for them. In the contest, there are two types of categories to distinguish the song: the clean song and the country song.

Goldfinch in Christian symbolism 

The goldfinch is associated with Christian symbolism because of the thistle seeds it eats. The goldfinch has been related to the Passion of Christ and his crown of thorns, it appears in the images of the Virgin and the baby Jesus. It also represents the scene of Jesus and Mary at the crucifixion.

For example, La Madonna del cardellinoo Madonna of the Goldfinch, painted by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael in 1505-6 is a work that depicts the relationship between the goldfinch and religion.


Goldfinches are perfect pets to have at home, do you think so? If after reading all this information, you definitely think you can be an excellent owner of this bird, go to a specialized pet and bird store to adopt your goldfinches.

Remember NOT to acquire them in any other way outside of the regulations that protect these little animals. If you definitely said, no, I better pass, you have the possibility to learn more about other species in our portal.

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