Lesser Goldfinch and Ruby-crowned Kinglet

This spunky little finch is the smallest member of the North American genus Carduelis. I caught this male pictured above harassing a female Ruby-crowned Kinglet as she was bathing in the water feature.

Unlike the more common American Goldfinch, the Lesser Goldfinch’s (Spinus psaltria) plumage does not change color during breeding season. The male (seen below) has a black cap and, in Washington, Oregon, California, and Baja California, nearly all males have green backs. Eastward, frequency of individuals with black on auriculars, neck, and back increases; southward into Mexico, nearly all adult males have completely black upperparts1. Click on photos for full sized images.

Lesser Goldfinch Male

This is their range map courtesy of NatureServe Explorer

Lesser Goldfinch Range Map

The male also has bright yellow underparts.

Lesser Goldfinch Male

The female Lesser Goldfinch can sometimes be confused with the female American Goldfinch in breeding plumage. This is the female Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch Female

and these are American Goldfinches in breeding plumage.

American Goldfinches in Breeding Plumage

The orange beak on the female American Goldfinch and its white undertail coverts distinguish it from the female Lesser Goldfinch below, which has yellow undertail coverts and a darker beak.

Lesser Goldfinch Female

Both of these species show gregarious flocking behavior except when nesting. I was lucky enough a few years ago to spot a Lesser Goldfinch building a nest in a nearby tree while checking my Bluebird boxes.

Lesser Goldfinch Female With Nestlings

It was great fun watching them raise their young that summer.  They always bring their youngsters to the feeders where, along with American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins, they not only make short order of sunflower and nyjer seed, they like to feed on sunflowers in the garden as well. You can hear the intricate call of the Lesser Goldfinch here.

References: 1Birds of North America Online

Written by Larry
Larry Jordan was introduced to birding after moving to northern California where he was overwhelmed by the local wildlife, forcing him to buy his first field guide just to be able to identify all the species visiting his yard. Building birdhouses and putting up feeders brought the avian fauna even closer and he was hooked. Larry wanted to share his passion for birds and conservation and hatched The Birder's Report in September of 2007. His recent focus is on bringing the Western Burrowing Owl back to life in California where he also monitors several bluebird trails. He is a BirdLife Species Champion and contributes to several other conservation efforts, being the webmaster for Wintu Audubon Society and the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Urban Bird Foundation. He is now co-founder of a movement to create a new revenue stream for our National Wildlife Refuges with a Wildlife Conservation Pass.