Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Lesser Goldfinch

Spinus psaltria

Very common in parts of the West, this tiny finch is easy to overlook until one learns its chiming and twittering callnotes. Small flocks of Lesser Goldfinches are often found feeding in weedy fields or in streamside trees. Two color patterns occur in the United States, and males in some areas may be either green-backed or black-backed. The complicated song of the male usually includes short imitations of the voices of other birds.
Conservation status Widespread (including much of tropics) and fairly common, numbers probably stable.
Family Finches
Habitat Open brushy country, open woods, wooded streams, gardens. Generally in semi-open areas, where there are thickets and trees close to open weedy fields, from low valleys to high in mountains. In dry country, usually found close to water. In the tropics, found in semi-open terrain, woodland edges.
Very common in parts of the West, this tiny finch is easy to overlook until one learns its chiming and twittering callnotes. Small flocks of Lesser Goldfinches are often found feeding in weedy fields or in streamside trees. Two color patterns occur in the United States, and males in some areas may be either green-backed or black-backed. The complicated song of the male usually includes short imitations of the voices of other birds.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • adult male
Feeding Behavior

Forages actively and acrobatically in trees, shrubs, and weeds. Except when nesting, usually forages in flocks.


Eggs

4-5, sometimes 3-6. Pale blue to pale blue-green, usually unmarked. Incubation is by female only, about 12 days. Male may feed female during incubation. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Age at which young leave nest is not well known. 2 broods per year, perhaps sometimes 3.


Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Age at which young leave nest is not well known. 2 broods per year, perhaps sometimes 3.

Diet

Mostly seeds, some insects. Majority of diet at all seasons consists of seeds. Especially favors those of the daisy (composite) family, such as thistle and wild sunflower, also seeds of various weeds. Also feeds on flowers and buds of trees (such as cottonwoods) and on some berries. Eats some insects, especially in summer, mainly small ones such as aphids. Will feed on salt.


Nesting

In warmer parts of Southwest, breeding season may extend over much of year from early spring to mid-autumn. In courtship, male feeds female; performs display flight with wings and tail spread widely, fluttering rapidly while singing. Nest: Usually placed in vertical fork of twigs in shrub or tree, 5-30' above the ground, sometimes higher in tree or very low in bushes or dense weeds. Nest (built mostly or entirely by female) is a compact open cup woven of grass, plant fibers, strips of bark, lined with plant down.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Permanent resident in much of range, summer resident only in some inland parts of the West north of the desert regions. Very rare stray east of normal range.

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Migration

Permanent resident in much of range, summer resident only in some inland parts of the West north of the desert regions. Very rare stray east of normal range.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Song a rapid medley of twittering notes. Calls include a plaintive tee-yee? or cheeo?
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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