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Goldfinches on feeder in snow

Want to attract Goldfinches? Sunflower hearts are the answer!


10th September 2018

Last Updated: 11th April 2024

Goldfinches are being seen at garden bird feeders in ever-greater numbers, and the key attraction for them is sunflower hearts, according to an investigation into the increase of this colourful garden visitor. Between November 2015 and February 2016, 5,183 households across Britain and Ireland took part in the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Goldfinch Feeding Survey to help determine this result.

As a nation we put out a staggering amount of bird food in our gardens every year, but we know little about how this affects bird populations on a national scale. New work by the BTO is attempting to answer these questions by investigating the recent increase in Goldfinch numbers, a bird that is making greater use of garden feeding stations. Last winter (2015/16) the public were asked to watch their garden bird feeders and report what foods Goldfinches were choosing, to help determine what it is that attracts these birds into our gardens.

With record numbers of Goldfinches being seen in gardens over the winter, it seemed like fate that this was the winter chosen to run a survey to investigate whether supplementary feeding in gardens could be behind their increasing population. An average of eight Goldfinches at a time were seen per household during the survey, highlighting the fact that this colourful bird is being reported by 70% more BTO Garden BirdWatch participants than twenty years ago.

The preliminary Goldfinch Feeding Survey results reveal that Goldfinches appear to prefer feeding on the supplementary food that we provide to the natural foods available in gardens. Sunflower hearts were overwhelmingly the preferred option, with niger seed (which can be placed in niger seed feeders) coming second. Natural foods were also taken, however, with teasel and thistle the favourites.

Clare Simm, the Goldfinch Feeding Survey organiser, commented, “The initial results from this survey suggested that the tastes of Goldfinches seem to have changed over time. Anecdotally, many participants commented that whereas Goldfinches used to dominate niger feeders, they have since switched to sunflower hearts. Interestingly, as well, it appears that they have a definite preference for either one or the other, rarely visiting both in the same garden.”

As the number of Goldfinches visiting gardens continues to grow, these findings will inform further BTO research into whether their use of bird foods is driving the increase in their national populations.

To find out more about taking part in Garden BirdWatch, including a free enquiry pack and magazine, please get in touch with the BTO.

Related Internet Links:
British Trust for Ornithology
BTO Garden BirdWatch

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