What kinds of goldfinches can you find in California?
Goldfinches are known for their beautiful coloring and sweet song—no wonder they’re one of the most popular birds around!
Luckily, all of them visit bird feeders, so you have a great chance of attracting goldfinches to your yard. If you’re lucky, you may even see a goldfinch at my bird feeding station right now! I have a LIVE high-definition camera watching my bird feeders 24/7. 🙂
Here are the three types of goldfinches that live in California:
#1. American Goldfinch
- Spinus tristis
- In summer, males are a vivid yellow with a black cap and black wings. Females are a duller yellow without a black cap.
- In winter, both sexes look the same and turn a pale brown/olive color. They’re identified by their black wings and white wing bar.
These small and colorful goldfinches are common in California.
They are known for their roller-coaster pattern of flying. But, honestly, it looks like they are having a ton of fun while in the air!
Luckily, American Goldfinches are relatively easy to attract to bird feeders! Try offering their favorite foods, which are sunflower kernels and Nyjer seed!
It’s also helpful to include bird feeders specially designed for goldfinches. These small birds are easily scared off by larger “bullies.” They’ll appreciate having places that only they can use! One of my favorite traits about these birds is that they can feed in any position, even upside down.
American Goldfinch Range Map
American Goldfinches are strict vegetarians. Their diet is exclusively made of seeds no insects, which is rare in the bird world. So naturally, they feast on seeds from asters, thistles, sunflowers, grasses, and many types of trees.
Because of their diet, American Goldfinches breed later than other birds. They wait until June or July, when most plants are in full seed production, ensuring there’s enough food for them to feed their babies.
To identify them by sound, listen for a pretty series of musical trills and warbles.
#2. Lesser Goldfinch
- Spinus psaltria
- Males are bright yellow below with a glossy black cap, back, and wings. Also, look for white patches on the wings.
- Females and young males have olive backs, dull yellow underparts, and black wings marked by two whitish bars.
The Lesser Goldfinch is the smallest goldfinch in California.
But the crazy thing is they are pretty tough around food sources or wildflowers. For example, they’ve been known to chase away the larger Lawrence’s Goldfinches, to show dominance.
You’ll find them in weedy fields, farmlands, woodlands, desert oases, parks, and urban settings.
Look for these goldfinches gathered in large groups that can number up to several hundred individuals. You’ll see these flocks around feeding sites and water sources.
When flying, they have the same roller-coaster style flight as the American Goldfinch.
Lesser Goldfinch Range Map
Lesser Goldfinches are often found in the suburbs, where they are common visitors to feeders. These small finches eat sunflower seeds, along with the thin-hulled seeds of Nyjer/thistle.
The male’s song is a rapid medley of twittering notes, lasting up to 10 seconds.
#3. Lawrence’s Goldfinch
- Spinus lawrencei
- Males are primarily gray with yellow on the breast, upper belly, wings, and back. Their chin, face, and crown of the head are black.
- Females are similar but have brown above, with no black in the face and less yellow in the plumage.
Lawrence’s Goldfinches are one of the most beautiful finches in California.
Interestingly, they are highly nomadic because they live in extremely arid areas. Nevertheless, these goldfinches move around constantly, looking for places that provide food and water.
Lawrence’s Goldfinch Range Map
Lawrence’s Goldfinches don’t get their yellow breeding feathers through molting (like most birds). Instead, the feathers become yellower as they wear, shedding their brownish color and exposing yellow parts of the feather beneath. They are the only goldfinches that develop breeding plumage in this manner.
This species is sometimes attracted to feeders. Your best bet is to fill them with Nyjer or shelled sunflower seeds.
Listen below as the male Lawrence’s Goldfinch sings several high-pitched notes mixed with some of their call notes. Typically, they’re more musical than other finches and often imitate other birds.
Do you need additional help identifying goldfinches?
Try this field guide!
Which of these goldfinches have you seen before in California?
Leave a comment below!
The range maps above were generously shared with permission from Birds of the World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!