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Lawrence's Goldfinch Life History


Open Woodlands

Lawrence’s Goldfinches nest mostly in dry, open oak woodlands with chaparral, weedy fields, and a source of freshwater. They also nest and forage in coastal scrub, pinyon pine–juniper woodlands, and streamside habitats. In suburbs and around ranches, they feed in weedy fields and perch in ornamental cypresses or conifers, which sometimes also provide convenient dense cover for nesting. After breeding, Lawrence’s Goldfinches make erratic movements into habitats similar to breeding habitats, including desert arroyos, river floodplains, mesquite bosques, weedy fields, roadsides, cultivated fields, orchards, gardens, and parks.

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Lawrence’s Goldfinches eat mostly plant seeds and only rarely eat insects, though the larvae of the jumping gall wasp may be important in the diet. They also eat plant buds and some fruit. Like the more familiar American Goldfinch, they forage by taking seeds while perched, consuming them whole or husking them quickly in the bill before swallowing them. Often they perch in the seed-bearing plant itself as they feed, sometimes in a neighboring plant or on a wire fence. When feeding, they may hang upside-down in chickadee fashion to reach seeds. Lawrence’s Goldfinches are gregarious in winter, traveling and foraging in flocks, and often join other finches, sparrows, or juncos in weedy fields. During the breeding season, they also form flocks, typically smaller ones. Plants in the forget-me-not family (Boraginaceae) are among the most important for Lawrence’s Goldfinches in spring, especially the seeds of fiddlenecks (genus Amsinckia), several of which are scarce or even endangered. Chamise, mistletoe, coffeeberry, pigweed, inkweed, and thistles also provide food for the species. Lawrence’s Goldfinches sometimes visit feeders with nyjer or other very small seeds.

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Nest Placement


The female selects the nest site, accompanied by the male. Nests are usually placed in a forked branch of California sycamore, blue oak, or other oak species (interior live oak, canyon live oak, coast live oak), sometimes in clumps of mistletoe or lace lichen, about 10 feet above the ground. Nests are usually close to prime feeding habitats and to water.

Nest Description

The female constructs a cup nest of grasses, forbs, and leaves, lined with plant down, plant fibers, hair, and feathers, and sometimes adorned with flowers or lichen. Nests average about 3 inches across and 2 inches tall, with interior cup about 1.7 inches across and 1 inch deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-6 eggs
Egg Description:

White and unmarked; sometimes very pale blue.

Condition at Hatching:

Helpless with down along back.

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Foliage Gleaner

As spring approaches, small flocks of Lawrence’s Goldfinches settle in productive nesting areas, and pairs begin to form, often perching together even while still part of flocks. At this time of year, males can be very intolerant of rivals in the flock and sometimes attack them in flight. They usually perform a threat display first, lowering the wings, raising and fanning the tail, and swaying side to side while singing and facing the rival. Males sing and give courtship calls to attract females and may land near a female, which signals interest by perching close to the male and giving contact calls. The two face one another, touch bills, and bow, and the male generally regurgitates a meal for the female, which may quiver the wings, much like a begging nestling. Males sometimes chase females in flight and reportedly also mate with them in flight, but mating usually occurs after the male makes a looping flight in front of the female. She then faces the male, vibrates her wings, and raises her head and tail. The female gathers nesting material, usually accompanied by the male, who sings as the female builds the nest. Until the female lays eggs, the male may drive other males away from the nest area, but males do not seem as aggressive after the eggs are laid. Males defend a small area around the nest, while females defend chiefly the nest itself. Pairs sometimes nest close to others of the species without conflict, and small “colonies” of nests have been reported, notably in plantings of ornamental conifers. Male and female maintain pair bonds during most of the nesting season, rubbing bills, chasing, calling, and even mating well after nestlings are hatched. Male and female share incubation and chick-rearing duties. After young have fledged, adults and young gather into flocks with others of their species and may begin nomadic movements in summer, including movements upslope into montane habitats. Flocks as large as 700 birds have been reported, but most flocks contain fewer than 50 birds, which roost together overnight. Movements of this species seem unpredictable, but in some years, large numbers move eastward across the Colorado River to winter as far east as western Texas.

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Restricted Range

According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, Lawrence’s Goldfinch populations were steady or decreased slightly between 1968 and 2015, though the nomadic nature of this species and the remoteness of some nesting areas make population trends difficult to gauge. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 380,000, ranks the species a 15 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and includes it on the Yellow Watch List for species with restricted ranges. Development and degradation of its habitats, including overgrazing and the introduction and proliferation of non-native plants, probably represent the greatest conservation threats to this species.

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Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Watt, Doris J., Peter Pyle, Michael A. Patten and Jeff N. Davis. (2016). Lawrence's Goldfinch (Spinus lawrencei), version 3.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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