The European goldfinch is a small bird in the finch family that is native to Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. Males and females are very similar, with a red face, black and white head, warm brown upper parts, white underparts with buff flanks and breast patches, and black and yellow wings. Males can often be distinguished by a larger, darker red mask that extends just behind the eye. The shoulder feathers are black, whereas they are brown on the females. In females, the red face does not extend past the eye. The ivory-colored bill is long and pointed, and the tail is forked. Goldfinches in breeding condition have a white bill, with a greyish or blackish mark at the tip for the rest of the year. Juveniles have a plain head and a greyer back but are unmistakable due to the yellow wing stripe. Adults molt after the breeding season and at this time appear less colourful until the tips of the newly grown feathers wear away.
European goldfinches are native to Europe, North Africa, and western and central Asia. They are found in open, partially wooded lowlands, forest edges, thickets, heaths, streams, riverine and marshy areas with bushes and trees, grasslands with scattered trees, scrub, orchards, gardens, and parks. These birds are resident in the milder west of their range but migrate from colder regions. They also make local movements, even in the west, to escape bad weather.
European goldfinches are social birds especially in the winter when they group together to form flocks of up to 40 individuals and sometimes even more. These small colorful birds are diurnal and cover great distances every day in search of food. They usually feed by hovering from plant to plant and are often seen to feed upside down. When the night comes, they roost in groups on tree branches or in thick bushes. European goldfinches communicate with each other vocally and their common call is a melodic "tickeLIT", and the song is a pleasant tinkling medley of trills and twitters, but always including a "teLLIT-teLLIT-teLLIT".
European goldfinches are monogamous and form long-lasting pair bonds. Their breeding season occurs in spring and starts in March with courtship displays. The male perches close to the female stretches his wings while swaying from side to side, showing the bright yellow patches of the wings. The nest is built entirely by the female and is generally completed within a week. The male accompanies the female but does not contribute. The nest is neat and compact and is generally located several meters above the ground, hidden by leaves in the twigs at the end of a swaying branch. It is constructed of mosses and lichens and lined with plant down such as that from thistles. It is attached to the twigs of the tree with spider silk. A deep cup prevents the loss of eggs in windy weather. Beginning within a couple of days after the completion of the nest, the female lays a clutch of 4-6 eggs, which are whitish with reddish-brown speckles. The eggs are incubated for 11-13 days by the female, who is fed by the male. The chicks are altricial; they are born blind and naked and are fed by both parents. Initially, they receive a mixture of seeds and insects, but as they grow the proportion of insect material decreases. For the first 7-9 days, the young are brooded by the female. The nestlings fledge 13-18 days after hatching but parents continue to feed them for a further 7-9 days.
European goldfinches are commonly kept and bred in captivity around the world because of their distinctive appearance and pleasant song. In Britain during the 19th century, many thousands of goldfinches were trapped each year to be sold as cage-birds. One of the earliest campaigns of the Society for the Protection of Birds was directed against this trade. These colorful songbirds also suffer from the destruction of open space habitats and from poisoning due to the pesticides that are used in agriculture.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total European goldfinch population size is around 101-155 million mature individuals. In Europe, the breeding population is 27.8-42.7 million pairs, which equates to 55.7-85.5 million mature individuals. Overall, currently, European goldfinches are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but their numbers today are decreasing.