European Birds in the Midwest – 2019 update

Please note: Although RRBO is ceasing operations, I am still gathering European Goldfinch data! Please continue to follow instructions on the previous page.

Common questions about European Goldfinches in North America

Where did these birds come from? Apparently, a large importer of birds in the Chicago area released a great many birds of a number of species around 2002.  There were reports of Eurasian birds from the area prior to that time, probably ones that escaped from the poorly-maintained quarantine station.

Birds not in the Upper Midwest may be examples of other escapes and releases.

Where are these birds being reported? To date, I have received many dozens of reports of European Goldfinches, as well as lesser numbers of reports of other species.  Most are in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, radiating from the Chicago area where the releases reportedly occurred.  The pattern is primarily north from Chicago, and along the Lake Michigan shoreline, but reports are by no means restricted to these areas.  There are reports from all over Wisconsin, as well as from Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario (the areas from which I’ve requested reports).

Are they nesting? Yes. I have confirmed nesting reports of Great Tit and European Goldfinch in Illinois and Wisconsin.

Are they harmful? The only species that appears to be present in significant numbers are European Goldfinch.  They do not appear to be a threat to any native species, but of course non-native species can behave in unexpected ways.  This is one reason we need to track the movement and expansion of these birds.

Will European Goldfinches hybridize with American Goldfinches? Probably not.  They are the same genus, but at least in Great Britain, European Goldfinches breed much earlier in the summer than American Goldfinches.

European Goldfinch in the UK by Joe/freebird4 under a Creative Commons license.

Can they survive the winter in the north? Yes. They are hardy birds. They eat a variety of weed seeds in the wild, and they will also come to bird feeders.

How do I identify a European Goldfinch? Here are some links to help with identification:


More information on Midwestern birds

Please note: Although RRBO is ceasing operations, I am still gathering European Goldfinch data! Please continue to follow instructions on the previous pages.

  1. My paper, link is to a PDF:  Craves, J. A. 2008. Current status of European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) in the western Great Lakes region (pdf, 1.5 MB). North American Birds 62:498-501.
  2. The RRBO blog Net Results, where I have published photos and updates of nesting birds: Click here.
  3. Excerpt from “The Changing Seasons” in North American Birds Spring Migration, March-May 2004:*”Old World finches, reported in small numbers beginning late last fall, continued to figure in the regional reports: scattered reports of European Goldfinches stretching from Manitoba (one in late autumn) to northern Ontario (many) and to Quebec (two in winter), single Eurasian Siskins in Quebec, New Brunswick, and in Michigan, and a …Eurasian Linnet in Michigan?  Most record committees relegate records of “cage” birds to “status unknown” categories, and for good reason.  With help from Julie Craves and Alan Wormington, we opened a Pandora’s Box of surprises from the Great Lakes: reports of Eurasian Jays, Common Chaffinches, European Greenfinches, Saffron Finches, Eurasian Linnets, a Blue Tit, and two pairs of breeding Great Tits — plus hundreds of European Goldfinches coming to feeders across a nine-state, three-province area.  Most of these have not been reported in this journal.  A rumor has persisted that a large importer, International Zoological Imports in Vernon Hills, Illinois (near Chicago) closed its doors in 2002 and released many of its charges into the wild.  As Craves notes, “there is no confirmation of this rumor, but a compilation of reports does suggest the Chicago area as the point of radiation.”  Still, as John Idzikowski points out, records of European Goldfinch were on the rise around the Great Lakes before 2002 .[Some European bird records may be true vagrants] …Most of the finches, however, are either imported or propagated (legally) in the United States … . This is all very disheartening, especially when one considers the apparent distances traveled by some of these (assumed) escapees: European Goldfinches reached Gimli, Manitoba, Thunder Bay, Ontario, and White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia while a Common Chaffinch made it to Silver Islet (in Lake Superior), Ontario and the Eurasian Siskins traveled to Whitefish Point, Michigan, the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec, and Lorneville, New Brunswick!  These are mostly fall and spring records, suggested that these presumed former captives still tend to move as migrants in season.  Sharp (2002) has asked already in this column about separating the wheat(ear) from the chaff(inch), but one has to keep the question alive: hypothetical flights of goldfinches from Chicago to Thunder Bay (740 km) or Whitefish Point (less than 600 km) or even the Lake Winnipeg area (~1200 km) are impressive, but the siskins in the Gaspe and the Saint John, New Brunswick areas were almost 1800 km away from the Windy City.  How far to the east in Canada do these birds go before they become inseparable from the Eurasian finches reported there occasionally as apparent legitimate strays? Some would argue that Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Laborador hold the key: neither province has seen a flight of finches in this century that would provide context for any of the Great Lakes (or nearby) birds.  The only Eurasian birds of note this season in the Maritimes, aside from waterfowl, was a Eurasian Hobby — but editor Blake Maybank was quick to point out the ship-riding habits of small falcons, amply substantiated in the Sea Swallow, the annual report of the Royal Naval Bird Watching Society. Despite overwhelming circumstantial evidence that most of the Eurasian passerines notes around the Great Lakes were not of wild provenance, we still think it important for observers to record what they see and study individual birds in detail.  Caleb Putman, for instance, studied the Michigan siskin carefully, noting three retained juvenal outer greater coverts, indicating a bird in its first spring — probably the most likely age to make a navigational error on its first migration.  As there are known propagators of this species in North America, the proper ageing of this individual does not lay to rest concerns about its provenance.  However, we hope that other observers of such birds will go to similar lengths to identify and age birds of this, sort so that, minimally, we come to know what birds inhabit our landscapes and what their movements might be.”

The proper citation for this article is: S. J. Dinsmore, S. J.  and W. R. Silcock.  2004.  The Changing Seasons: Expansions. North American Birds 58:324-330.

*The reference to Sharp (2002) is cited as Sharp, M. F. 2003.  The Changing Seasons: drought, fire, plague, and a penguin.  North American Birds 56:402-408.

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