cany

CA lesser goldfinch v. American goldfinch

27 posts in this topic

Today when posting a pine siskin and F lesser goldfinch (here, first four pics: http://www.whatbird.com/forum/index.php?/topic/92719-simple-confirmations-please/#entry419076), there was a question about whether the lesser was really an American.

To try to straighten my own thoughts out, I took about 300 (yes, doh!) pics of what I believe are lesser at my feeder and compared them to Sibley, Stokes, National Geo, Peterson, Kaufman and a couple of local books. I must say, of all of these, Sibley was the most helpful in terms of coloration.

Sibley notes that there are two distinct color varients in males (Western/Texas) and pale/bright adult females. It would appear that all of the females I shot today would qualify as pale. The males (Western; black cap present but no black back) seem obvious.

We have Lawrence, American and Lesser goldfinch here (I have seen males and females Lawrence in another canyon area but never at the feeders, which doesn't mean they aren't here, it just means I have not seen them).

So, I'm going to take female Lawrence out of the mix because the bird in question really doesn't fit the description.

In defense of lesser versus American, Sibley notes males and females have a white mark at the base of the primaries. In the pale female, he artistically renders it much smaller than in the brighter female.

Sibly also notes a difference in pale/bright with olive/green on back, respectively.

Further, Sibley notes that pale/bright females have "usually yellowish" undertail coverts/yellow undertail coverts meaning, I take it, that the pale females do not necessarily have yellowish undertail coverts.

Knowing there are probably subtle individual differences, and that photographs can/do show things that sometimes really aren't there and often not what is there due to lighting/angle, I am hoping for some help by those of you interested.

The lighting today was varied but generally overcast (rained this afternoon) so there isn't a lot of certain kinds of sun reflection in these. I shot 8 photos in rapid sequence and picked the best of many sequences.

Here's the bird in question:

8537799192_a70dc2557f.jpg

T: Pine siskin, B: Lesser goldfinch by canyon53ss, on Flickr

In defense of this bird being a lesser pale female:

--She does appear to have a weird tick of white below the primaries which is noticeable but not obvious. In American, the wing bars for both adult breeding and non-breeding females should be much more obvious.

--She appears olive, not green backed, to my eye but a caveat here; either I don't see color accurately or my monitor doesn't

which is a bit more obvious in this photo

8537799168_e571d824b3.jpg

T: Pine siskin, B: Lesser goldfinch by canyon53ss, on Flickr

--I believe I see a hint of yellow in the undertail coverts in this photo, but I could very well be wrong

8537799192_a70dc2557f.jpg

T: Pine siskin, B: Lesser goldfinch by canyon53ss, on Flickr

--She does have a dark v. pinkish bill which eliminates adult female breeding American, but does not eliminate adult female non-breeding American.

Americans are slightly (0.5 inches) larger, which isn't something comparable in the picture with the pine siskin, but is comparable when with other finches. So, I tried to find a pic of this bird in the 300+ photos I took. What I noticed was that some females had a more obvious white tick than others:

Bottom two birds

url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/canyon53ss/8537622263/]8537622263_6c800758df.jpg[/url]

IMG_0379 by canyon53ss, on Flickr

Bottom three birds

8537638711_42278fce83.jpg

???????????? by canyon53ss, on Flickr

I know... a lot of work for one bird, but if I am wrong it means I have a problem accurately IDing this bird, and that's not good.

What do you think, and why?

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I get the "feel" of American Goldfinch for the bird in question (top 3 photos). Lack of color due to lighting conditions make it more difficult, but the proportions look more like Am.Goldfinch.

I have dozens of AG at my feeders...been eating me out of house and home for the past 2-3 months!! I also have at least 1 dozen LG which are year-round residents, so I see both species

side by side every day. AG seem "slimmer" in proportion to their length, and have a longer and larger bill in proportion also ..... LG seem more compact with a shorter bill length.

Nothing scientific about my evaluation, it's just that I see so many on a daily basis that even without color I can tell them apart.

The ones in the 2 bottom photos are definitely LG. I see the bird in question as an AG.

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Slimmer in proportion to their length? Oh dear. I just looked in Sibley and Peterson again and it looks the opposite to me. I am so confuzzled:)

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Slimmer in proportion to their length? Oh dear. I just looked in Sibley and Peterson again and it looks the opposite to me. I am so confuzzled:)

OK, I said there was nothing scientific about my assessment. ^_^ Maybe not slimmer slimmer, but less compact. Hard to explain....you'd 'a just have to have been there!!

Hope I don't have you too terribly bumfused!! :)

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OK, I said there was nothing scientific about my assessment. ^_^ Maybe not slimmer slimmer, but less compact. Hard to explain....you'd 'a just have to have been there!!

Hope I don't have you too terribly bumfused!! :)

OK, I said there was nothing scientific about my assessment. ^_^ Maybe not slimmer slimmer, but less compact. Hard to explain....you'd 'a just have to have been there!!

Hope I don't have you too terribly bumfused!! :)

I was already bumfused:) I'm trying to de-bumfuse myself. :P

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I'm with psweet on this one, looks good for American Goldfinch. The brown (vs olive in Lesser) back color, the slightly larger, paler and straighter bill (vs smaller, darker, stubbier bill in Lesser) and broad whitish wingbar on the greater coverts (vs narrower, wingbars on Lesser) all point towards American. I think it's the bill shape that convinces me the most (hard as it is to see in these pics).

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FWIW, my "feeling" agrees with Bird Brain; and I see only American Goldfinches regularly. The original bird in question looks American to me. The ones in the bottom 2 photos look different--olive mantle with more of a subtle pattern showing; yellow beneath...

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the 2 bottom photos are all lesser goldfinch. american goldfinch are noticably larger and the plumage is noticably different too and you will know when you see one at your feeder with the lessers. they stand out like a sore thumb. our american goldfinch here in cali are browner than lessers and 1/2 inch bigger which is quite a difference. theres no mistaking them and im referring to the females and non breeding males. i also compared the 2 top photos to my lesser goldfinch pictures. for some reason, when i see either species, i can always tell the difference but this photo was a bit tricker. i always forget about the undertail converts. lol i agree with jimbob and psweet that they are female american goldfinch due to the white undertail converts. most female lesser have yellow under the tail as do mine in my pictures.

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Excellent work on this, cany. I have to say that I'm less sure of my ID than I was before. One problem is that the bird is clearly worn -- if she hasn't started molting, she will very soon. Besides dulling any colors, that tends to make wing-bars look narrower than they should, since the feathers wear from the tip. The molt timing in these two species is different, but I think we'd need a shot of the spread wing to work with that. There are also differences in the tail feathers -- did you get any shots that would work there?

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i agree with jimbob and psweet that they are female american goldfinch due to the white undertail converts.

I think it's a Lesser. ;)

It seems smaller then the Pine Siskin to me, and it over all looks nothing like the American Goldfinches I've seen. And also, I don't see the actual undertail coverts. Anyway, I guess I'm not really saying why I think it's a Lesser. I'm not really good at that.

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Thank you guys for this conversation, It is helping me learn so much. My first impression was American but now I'm equally bumfused. I always thought that the lesser had a darker bill than the American.but obviously I'm relying on only one field mark which I'm learning is stupid.

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Excellent work on this, cany. I have to say that I'm less sure of my ID than I was before. One problem is that the bird is clearly worn -- if she hasn't started molting, she will very soon. Besides dulling any colors, that tends to make wing-bars look narrower than they should, since the feathers wear from the tip. The molt timing in these two species is different, but I think we'd need a shot of the spread wing to work with that. There are also differences in the tail feathers -- did you get any shots that would work there?

Excellent work on this, cany. I have to say that I'm less sure of my ID than I was before. One problem is that the bird is clearly worn -- if she hasn't started molting, she will very soon. Besides dulling any colors, that tends to make wing-bars look narrower than they should, since the feathers wear from the tip. The molt timing in these two species is different, but I think we'd need a shot of the spread wing to work with that. There are also differences in the tail feathers -- did you get any shots that would work there?

No, I'm afraid not. My assumption was that the bird was lesser (and not in dispute), so it didn't occur to me. :(

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I think it's a Lesser. ;)

It seems smaller then the Pine Siskin to me, and it over all looks nothing like the American Goldfinches I've seen. And also, I don't see the actual undertail coverts. Anyway, I guess I'm not really saying why I think it's a Lesser. I'm not really good at that.

ugh! that was my first impression in the first place... lol then i read you and psweets comments about it being an american, i started looking more closly.lol.. now im back to lesser.. i was right in the first place. its a lesser goldfinch.. :P :P :P

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i had both lesser and american at my feeder yesterday, no mistaking either species, LOL. also, as stated, american have white under the tail but some lesser do also, although rare, it does happen

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i had both lesser and american at my feeder yesterday, no mistaking either species, LOL

I wouldn't say there is no mistaking either species, especially given the very confusing bird above. I don't have much experience with Lessers, so I'm not comfortable speculating here, but there don't seem to be any clear, diagnostic marks that definitively eliminate either species.

EDIT: Great post, Cany. One of those that really makes you dig down and examine subtle marks.

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I wouldn't say there is no mistaking either species, especially given the very confusing bird above. I don't have much experience with Lessers, so I'm not comfortable speculating here, but there don't seem to be any clear, diagnostic marks that definitively eliminate either species.

EDIT: Great post, Cany. One of those that really makes you dig down and examine subtle marks.

I think, regarding clear, diagnostic marks you are probably right. It's easier (maybe like sparrows) to eliminate possibilities, but that still leaves the question of pale female v. American. I've ONLY seen pale here, not the brighter variety.

And there is also the "you had to be there" part where size makes a difference and may be noticeable, but even then, individual variation and all that.

I saw a pair of red-tails the other day in flight (courtship) where the size difference was quite apparent, and had they not been in courtship mode, I could still have likely (as adult birds) concluded it was a M/F. The female was easily 30% bigger which was so very obvious when they flew over me.

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actually, it wasnt confusing to me at all, i knew right away it was a lesser but when psweet and jimbob mentioned american, i felt they were more experienced and started doubting myself which i wont do again if im sure of the species, also, i didnt want to argue..lol like a said before, i have pictures on facebook of both species on my feeders and theres clearly a difference between the 2. no mistaking. meaning females, the only pictures i have of the males are in breeding plumage

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actually, it wasnt confusing to me at all, i knew right away it was a lesser but when psweet and jimbob mentioned american, i felt they were more experienced and started doubting myself which i wont do again if im sure of the species, also, i didnt want to argue..lol like a said before, i have pictures on facebook of both species on my feeders and theres clearly a difference between the 2. no mistaking. meaning females, the only pictures i have of the males are in breeding plumage

I understand that you feel sure about this bird, but I don't think the ID of this bird is settled. Several of our very experienced and competent birders on here have expressed their uncertainty on the ID.

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im very experience with lessers since i see them every day.... most east coasters have never seen one..

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actually,. im leaving this forum. too many know it alls and swelled heads in here. i wont be back. psweet, creeker and liam are very cool. but billypilgrim, ive butted head with you too many times. im out of here..iits really too bad because i "liked" this forum at first

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I'm sorry to hear that Birdluvr, but TheBillyPilgrim is right, this is not a straightforward bird to ID, especially from this picture. You yourself stated confidently:

lol i agree with jimbob and psweet that they are female american goldfinch due to the white undertail converts.

I don't see how stating that this is a hard bird to id is being a know it all...

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im not talking about just this post,. im talking about other posts as well. hes butted heads with me on more than one occasion. he said himself hes doesnt have much experience with lessers. i see them daily at my feeder and have for years. btw, i havent left yet but wont be posting nearly as much. most of the members here are very nice and ive decided im not going to let one certain person drive me away from here. one certain member has asked me to stay so im going stay.

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There is definitely uncertainty on the bird, and by those who are bird experts. It's one of those strange circumstances.

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