Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

September 14, 2010

Goldfinches of Arizona

Filed under: Birds, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, comparisons, Gilbert Water Ranch — richditch @ 7:21 pm
American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch, Gilbert Water Ranch, 2/12/2010, Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/1600th second @ f/5.6.

There are four species of goldfinch that can be found in Arizona: American Goldfinch, Lesser Goldfinch, Lawrence’s Goldfinch, and Pine Siskin. Some people might argue about the fourth species because of the name, but it is a close relative of the other three and has the same golden yellow tones in some of its feathers.

Even non birders know and love the American Goldfinch, usually referring to it simply as “the goldfinch.” It is a common and welcome bird in the backyards of a lot of the eastern United States, and it has long appeared on greeting cards and placemats and other decorative items. In AZ it is not a common bird, and any sighting one of is worth noting. I’ve only managed to see one or two in 10 of my 16 years here.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

American GoldfinchGilbert Water Ranch, 12/19/2009, Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 200, 1/640th second @ f/5.6.

Breeding males are bright yellow with black wings, a black cap, and white accents. Breeding females don’t have the black cap and and back, neck, and head are not as brightly colored as the male. Winter plmaged birds are even more dull in appearance.

Lesser Goldfinch at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Lesser Goldfinch, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, 6/21/2007, Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 800, 1/90th second @ f/7.1.

The Lesser Goldfinch is mostly restricted to the southwestern United States and is very common in much of Arizona. It is the expected goldfinch in the state. At 4.5 inches it is smaller than the 5 inch American Goldfinch. It never gets as bright yellow as its larger cousin.

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser GoldfinchBoyce Thompson Arboretum, 5/1/2009, Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 800, 1/320th second @ f/5.6

Only the breeding male shows the black cap. Colors are not as bright as on the American Goldfinch. Wing markings and rump color differ as well between the two species.

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser GoldfinchBoyce Thompson Arboretum, 5/18/2010, Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/200th second @ f/5.6

The Lesser Goldfinch occurs in two forms. The overwhelming form found in AZ is the “green-backed.”

Lesser Goldfinch male, dark form

Lesser Goldfinch male, dark form

Lesser GoldfinchBoyce Thompson Arboretum, 7/7/2007, Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/100th second @ f/7.1

In the eastern part of their range (primarily in Texas) there is the “black-backed” form. A few very dark-backed birds are sometimes seen in AZ.

Lawrence's Goldfinch male

Lawrence's Goldfinch male

Lawrence’s GoldfinchBoyce Thompson Arboretum, 4/18/2008, Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 320, 1/125th second @ f/13

The biggest “prize” for birders among the goldfinches is the Lawrence’s. This species is primarily a bird of the central valley in California, but there can be unpredictable invasions of the species into Arizona. The males are very distinct with their black faces, yellow bibs, and large areas of yellow on the wing against a mostly gray body.

Lawrence's Goldfinch female

Lawrence's Goldfinch female

Lawrence’s GoldfinchBoyce Thompson Arboretum, 4/10/2005, Nikon D70, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 200, 1/250th second @ f/11

The female lacks the black face and crown, and the bib is less bright. At 4.75 inches Lawrence’s Goldfinch is mid way between American and Lesser in size.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine SiskinBoyce Thompson Arboretum, 4/16/2008, Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 320, 1/320th second @ f/5.6

The Pine Siskin is a close relative of the other three goldfinches. It often roams about in flocks, or can be found mixed in with flocks of American or Lesser Goldfinches. Kt i s heavily streaked and the bill is more pointed. Amount of yellow on the body varies and is easiest to see in the spread wings.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine SiskinBoyce Thompson Arboretum, 4/18/2008, Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 320, 1/250th second @ f/10

Most of the images from Boyce Thompson Arboretum were made in the Demonstration Garden at a water feature that pulls in many thirsty birds. Some of the shots in this post used fill flash from a Nikon SB-800 flash.

I take a lot of shots of Lesser Goldfinch and you can see more of them on this blog – just use the search box to find more of them.

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4 Comments »

  1. Gorgeous photos! When I lived in Mesa I had loads of Lessers in my backyard. I tried and dipped on the Lawrence’s a couple times. I hope to see some one day still. Now in Idaho I get tons of American Goldfinches. We do get some Lessers in Idaho each year, but not many.

    Now the Goldfinch over in the UK is a pretty cool looking bird, but I don’t imagine they are closely related to those we have here.

    Comment by Idaho_Birder — September 14, 2010 @ 8:38 pm

  2. A very interesting post Rich. I had no idea that the Pine Siskin is actually a goldfinch but it makes sense even though the bill shape is quite different. Excellent photos of the entire group.

    Comment by rondudley — September 19, 2010 @ 7:15 am

  3. Great post Rich, Excellent images that are selected well to show the differences in ID’s.

    Comment by Mia — September 20, 2010 @ 8:35 pm

  4. Love your post! I love goldenfinches, and your pictures are beautiful!

    Comment by alexandravicknair44 — February 20, 2017 @ 1:37 pm


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