Living Bird Magazine
Lesser GoldfinchSpinus psaltria
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Fringillidae
Jabbering clouds of yellow, green, and black Lesser Goldfinches gather in scrubby oak, cottonwood, and willow habitats of the western U.S., or visit suburban yards for seeds and water. These finches primarily eat seeds of plants in the sunflower family, and they occur all the way south to the Peruvian Andes. Listen closely to their wheezy songs, which often include snippets from the songs of other birds.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look for Lesser Goldfinches among large flocks of birds at feeder stations, and near the tops of taller trees in scrubby habitats. The all-black cap on the Lesser is a good clue to distinguishing among mixed goldfinch groups. Also keep an eye out for bright yellow birds in weedy fields clinging to the top of thistle plants that have gone to seed.
- Jilguero Menor (Spanish)
- Chardonneret mineur (French)
Lesser Goldfinches readily come to feeders along with other finches such as American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins. These small finches eat many kinds of seeds from the sunflower family, including the thin-hulled seeds of nyjer thistle. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
- Cool Facts
- Male Lesser Goldfinches in the eastern part of their range in the U.S. tend to have black backs. Along the West Coast, their backs are green, with only a black cap. Elsewhere, the amount of black varies, with many birds having partly green backs. South of central Mexico, all of the males are black-backed.
- Lesser Goldfinches are most common in California and Texas, with pockets of local populations throughout the rest of its U.S. range.
- At feeding sites, Lesser Goldfinches typically mix in with other birds, such as Lawrence’s and American Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, House Finches, Lark Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, and Western Bluebirds.
- Where their ranges overlap in California, the Lesser Goldfinch—though smaller—dominates the Lawrence’s Goldfinch. The Lesser Goldfinch eats first at feeding stations and chases Lawrence’s Goldfinches away from nesting sites.
- The oldest known wild Lesser Goldfinch was a male, and at least 7 years old when he was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in California in 2015.