California has three species of Goldfinches: the ubiquitous America Goldfinch that seems to thrive throughout most all of the U.S for at least part of the year.; Lawrence’s Goldfinch that has a very limited range restricted to western rangelands and woodlands in California and northern Baja; and the Lesser Goldfinch, which occurs in most of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. All are small songbirds, but the Lesser Goldfinch is the smallest of them; in fact, it may be the smallest true finch in the world (3.5 -4.5 inches in length and 8-10 grams in weight). Black-capped Chickadees would dwarf these diminutive little birds.
I found a flock of Lesser Goldfinches feasting on seeds of a perennial herb in someone’s beautiful urban Los Angeles garden last week. They were so busy tearing into those plants, they completely ignored me.
Males in the eastern half of the range and in Mexico are black-backed, and those in the western half of the range (e.g., California) are green-backed, although the light was sufficiently bad where I found them foraging that I couldn’t really tell what color the back of the bird was.
Although they are quite gregarious, forming mixed flocks with Lawrence’s Goldfinch where they co-occur, the Lesser Goldfinch dominates the other species and drives them away from potential food sources. Their pugnacious habit reminds me of another small-bodied, feisty little bird that I recently wrote about (the Rufous Hummingbird, see previous post).