Meet the 3 Types of Goldfinches in the United States
There are three types of goldfinches across the United States. Learn what these goldfinch species look like and where to find them.
Goldfinches are one of the birds that people most commonly want to attract to their bird feeders and backyards. Although many people are familiar with the American goldfinch, they might not realize there are actually three goldfinch species in the United States. Here’s a little information about each of the three types of goldfinches.
This species is the most widespread of the three types of goldfinches and can be found throughout almost the entire country. The American goldfinch is so beloved, it’s the state bird of three states. It’s an extremely common feeder bird, so if you have bird feeders, you are likely familiar with this vibrant bird already. In winter, the males molt into dull yellow plumage colors, so you might not realize they stick around all year.
Female American goldfinches aren’t as bright yellow as males. “While out trying to photograph hummingbirds this summer, this female goldfinch stopped by looking for sunflower seeds. She briefly stopped atop a gladiola flower where I was able to capture this photo. I just love how she stopped and turned for me,” says Martha Tully.
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Both lesser and Lawrence’s goldfinches are western species that do not normally occur in the eastern U.S. The lesser goldfinch has a larger range and is more common. In the eastern part of their range, lesser goldfinches have a black back but farther west, they have a greenish back. Like American goldfinches, they mostly eat seeds and often visit bird feeders. Look for them in mixed flocks with other finches and pine siskins.
“Last spring, I had the pleasure of visiting Tucson, Arizona, when plants were exploding with blooms and wildlife was everywhere. I’ll admit, I got a little obsessed with getting the perfect photo of a hummingbird. But in doing so, I realized I was overlooking many other beautiful birds, like this female lesser goldfinch. This photo is one of my favorites because of how the flowers frame the bird,” says Anne Girton of Edina, Minnesota.
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The Lawrence’s goldfinch is found only in the far western United States and has the most limited range of the three types of goldfinches. Males are small gray finches with a black face patch and lemon yellow belly. Females have plain grayish faces. Lawrence’s goldfinches have an interesting migration pattern. Instead of typical north-south migration, they move more east-west, going from the coast during the breeding season and moving inland for the non-breeding season.
This species breeds in California but winters through southern Arizona, New Mexico and northwest Mexico.
Next, learn how to tell the difference between a yellow warbler vs a goldfinch.