Thursday, November 17, 2011

American vs. Lawrence's Goldfinch

The American Goldfinches at the feeders are in drab winter (basic) plumage. I took the photo above of a spring bird that, except for a few gray crown feathers, is almost molted into bright summer (alternate) plumage. The patches of gray on spring birds throw some beginning birders into thinking they have Lawrence's Goldfinches (see the lower photo),
a bird named in 1850 by John Cassin for George Lawrence, a New York businessman and naturalist. When these are reported to me, I reply "Look at the range map." Lawrence's breed in the foothills of California and northern Baja California. They winter in Arizona, New Mexico and occasionally into western Texas, and northern Mexico. Both in summer and winter, this goldfinch's range is erratic and unpredictable. They are seen one year but not the next. Birds have accidentally wondered to Nevada, Colorado, and Oregon (Davis 1999).

This species is one of the few birds on our McDonald's parking lot birdlist. (In upcoming posts, I will share a couple more birds on that list.) On a winter road trip through Arizona, we stopped for lunch near Florence. I crossed the street and easily identified a small flock of Lawrence's Goldfinches. Really these birds are quite distinctive and should not be confused with the much more widespread American Goldfinch.

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