Thursday, December 3, 2009

About Goldfinches...

I’m counting birds on weekends, as a citizen scientist (don’t ya love that moniker?) for Project FeederWatch. I hope you are too…its fun! Last Saturday, while I was watching, a bullet flew through the yard and landed low in a tree. It was another Sharp-shinned Hawk! Oh my…I do love the predators and don’t mind at all when they drop by for the occasional bit of lunch. It happens.

That silly White-winged Dove is still around, too; even today in the snow. I say it’s silly, because this is a tropical bird!

Also around is a small flock of Evening Grosbeaks…one of my favorites. Today, a snow day for me, 8-10 are here…more than twice as many as the other day. Snow always brings more birds to the feeders.

I watched a red-shafted Northern Flicker feed at the suet-feeder, too. I realize they are a woodpecker-type, but I’m used to only seeing woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches do this. Well, and that goofy Magpie! I’ve got to get a photo of that…

I have a question, though. In the summertime, I can easily discern that about a third of the goldfinches in my yard are Lesser Goldfinches. How on earth does one tell them from American Goldfinches when they are not in breeding colors? I had assumed the Lessers leave…until at last, one came in still suited-out in bright colors. I got a picture, here.

Now I’m confused…do I still have both goldfinches here?
I do see subtle differences in goldfinches in winter; some have pale yellow heads, some are faintly yellow underneath…but how the heck to ya tell the unadorned males apart? And I’m not even gonna talk about how to tell them from females! I see some of the birds are pretty dusky, with very little yellow. But seems to me these could be either winter females OR winter males. [sigh] Is there some trick I should know for telling not only winter American from Lesser Goldfinches, but also winter males from winter females? My eye is just not good enough yet.

I would appreciate any help I can get.

Here is my November Yard-bird list:


Bosque Bill said...

Maybe I can help with part of that... I have both Lesser & American Goldfinches here.

The American species doesn't loose all its yellow at once. You will see some with yellow in the face (and some keep a little yellow in the face and wing coverts, but nowhere else.) All of them are getting pretty dusky with sort of a greenish brown.

The Lessers don't change much with the seasons. They might not be quite as bright yellow as during summer, but those yellow bellies should be indicative (yes, some of the ladies are not as yellow.)

For me, I notice the American species has a much stronger pattern of lines on their wings, so you see a clear difference between brownish back and black & white wings. It is almost geometric with the wing lines coming together in an acute angle.

With the Lessers the wing patterns are less clearly defined and have no clean edges.

Does this help?

Connie Kogler said...

I'd say the bird on the left, yellow & black is the lesser, the other two are Americans. Size is a factor and AmGo's always look "cleaner" to me.

Beverly said...

Thank you both so much! Between Bill's descriptor and Connie's, I think I understand what 'cleaner' means. I'll have to look for that. I also see now, that it is likely only the females of the two species that I struggle with...and perhaps non-breeding American males from their females. LOL Just saying THAT shows you how difficult it is for me!

So many of the birds seem pale yellow...and some DO seem buffier, but some are buffy with yellow, too.

I will focus on wing patterns and try to fully recognize 'clean' patterns. Thanks Bill!

Connie, I can discern male Lesser with its darker back...but non-breeding Americans stump well as the two breed's females. I had no idea about the size though, thanks! Can one 'see' a half-inch difference?

You both are great, thanks again!!!