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Any idea what this goldfinch-like bird is?


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#1 Accidental birdwatcher

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Posted 08 November 2007 - 06:52 PM

This bird appeared briefly in mid-October at my birdbath this year (in Santa Rosa, CA). Clearly it was unusual, but nothing in the books makes any sense. We are near a heavily wooded area (but in suburbia) and seem to be on a north-south coastal migration path (more or less). It's most noticeable features are an all-yellow head, neck, breast, and back and mottled white-grey-dark grey wings. It is about the size and shape of a lesser goldfinch, but I'd say a trifle bigger and plumper. At first I thought it was a prothonotory warbler, because that was the only thing with an all-yellow head that made any sense. Today (November 8) the bird was back and at the feeder and bird bath for much of the day, along with the usual birds we see (lesser goldfinches, house finches, various sparrows, quail, titmice, chickadees, etc.). Today I got a good look at it. It definitely is not a warbler of any kind (and a prothonotory warbler here is a rarity anyway). It has a typical seed-eater bill, not a pointed, dark bill like a warbler. The bill and legs are a pale, pinkish-ivory color. The eye is dark. There is no eye ring. There is no streaking anywhere on the yellow areas. The underside tends slightly toward the olive, but the whole upper part of the bird is a clear lemon yellow--not as deep yellow as an American goldfinch. It's more like a parakeet yellow, but this bird does not have a hooked bill or a pointed tail. The tail is finch-like. It's medium-long and notched, although not deeply. From underneath, the edges and the tip of the tail are slightly darker, but not a lot. It's plain yellow underneath. There are no distinct wing bars or tail markings in flight that I could see. I'm stumped. There is no bird in the Western Birds book that has a completely yellow head that makes any sense. Note that this has the look of an adult male, not a juvenile, but I don't know that for sure. I wasn't able to take a good picture, but did get two bad ones that might help. I'm new here, If someone can tell me how to post the photos, I will.

 Thanks

 
Colin
 



#2 featherbrain

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Posted 08 November 2007 - 06:56 PM

Very nice and full description. It sounds very much like a Yellow-headed Blackbird. Here is a male: http://content.ornit...02_00619F_S.jpg and a female (which sounds like your bird): http://www.johnsonmi...bird female.jpg

 

 



#3 Accidental birdwatcher

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Posted 08 November 2007 - 06:58 PM

No, it's not nearly big enough to be a yellow-headed blackbird. It's only a tiny bit bigger than a goldfinch.


#4 Accidental birdwatcher

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Posted 08 November 2007 - 07:00 PM

Also, the WHOLE head, neck and back are yellow.


#5 Accidental birdwatcher

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Posted 08 November 2007 - 07:09 PM

Here are the photos. (Hope this works)

It's the bird on the left at the feeder 

and on the right at the water 

 


 



#6 pumakopp

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Posted 08 November 2007 - 09:43 PM

Appears to be an American goldfinch...in the photo of it drinking from the bath you can just see the pinkish color to its bill.

#7 Accidental birdwatcher

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Posted 08 November 2007 - 10:18 PM

It can't be an American goldfinch, can it?. It has no black cap, it does not have black wings and there is no white under the tail.


#8 shaelyn

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 07:17 AM

It sure looks like a male American goldfinch that's "doing something." They don't have the black caps unless they're in full breeding plumage, right? (I know they're not usually so yellow either.) So is there a chance that this one is in a transitional phase or that it's some kind of variant? Also, I have had a couple of very unusual finches at my niger feeder in the past -- they looked like they could easily have been escapees from someone's aviary. And I know there are many types of yellow finches in South America that are regularly captured and sold. But this guy really seems to say American goldfinch -- but an odd bird of that variety. Anyone?

#9 snowyowl

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 08:35 AM

In the second picture, the bird on the left certainly looks like a female American Goldfinch.  The points about the bright yellow bird are well-taken, but what else can it be, and the fact that it's together with a female American Goldfinch really helps seal the deal.


#10 Accidental birdwatcher

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 10:20 AM

Well, actually, I believe the other birds in the pictures are all lesser goldfinches (not American goldfinches), the single most common bird at feeders in this area. The fact that there are lesser goldfinches around really says nothing about what the unidentified bird is. If I had snapped the picture a few seconds earlier or later, it would have been with house finches, but that wouldn't make the unknown bird more or less likely to be a house finch. There are American goldfinches in our area, but we see 100 lesser goldfinches for every American goldfinch. I'd be willing to accept the idea that this is an American goldfinch in the middle of a molt if I were certain that the bird COMPLETELY loses its black cap at some stage in its regular seasonal plumage change. Does anyone know? It seems to me that if the American goldfinch normally went through a phase like this every year, then people would be used to seeing a bird like this occasionally and the books might show it as an occasionally seen but confusing stage in the regular plumage pattern. I don't know. I admit that it does generally look like a goldfinch, but the pale color of the bill seems odd to me, too. As someone suggested, it could be a mutated individual or it could be a runaway pet. Anyway, anyone know for sure if the American goldfinch ever loses its black head markings entirely?

Thanks for all the opinions 



#11 snowyowl

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 11:33 AM

The bird on the left in the second photo is absolutely not a Lesser Goldfinch.  In the first place it's noticeably larger than the Lesser Goldfinch in the same photo, and secondly it has no yellow whatsoever on the breast like a Lesser Goldfinch.  Also here's a photo from the internet showing an American Goldfinch lacking the black cap:

http://www.sonic.net...sterybird2.jpg:

 


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#12 Accidental birdwatcher

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 12:03 PM

Thanks, that's very useful. Still, my guy has a paler beak and legs, no white under the tail, a very different pattern of black and white on the wings (splotched, not black with white bars), a less deeply forked tail, an altogether  different whitish-yellow color in the yellow areas, and a different color (tone) pattern on the tail. I guess it's a male American goldfinch with partial leucism? How long does it take for plumage to change? If it's a plumage change, it's been going on at this stage for at least three weeks.

 
 



#13 snowyowl

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 12:39 PM

I think you are correct.  The yellow birds in the two pictures are different individuals, and the one in photo #2 is partially leucisitic. Note how snow-white the color is. And the bird on the far left in photo #2 is indeed a female. QED.


#14 Accidental birdwatcher

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 12:52 PM

Actually, the bird in the two photos is definitely the same individual. The shots were taken seconds apart. He flew from the feeder to the water.


#15 snowyowl

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 01:12 PM

Just goes to show how misleading it can often be making ID's solely from photos.  There's nothing like seeing the subject in the field for yourself.





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