We heard their mewing calls first and then saw the flock of lesser goldfinch (Spinus psaltria) in the cottonwoods next to the house (Lookout CA). There they were, about fifty tiny acrobatic finches assuming various positions, even hanging upside down, in an effort to get to the catkins. Feeding in small groups, the lesser goldfinch eats seeds, buds, flowers, fruits and supplements its diet with small insects such as plant lice.
There are two forms of the lesser goldfinch. In Texas it has a black back while further west the lesser goldfinch’s back is more olive-green. Its body is yellow, the wings are black with white wing bars, and the tail is short and notched. Males have a black cap which varies in size and color depending on the geographical area. The small conical dark bill is well adapted for seed eating.
Very adaptable, the lesser goldfinch can be found in urban and rural habitats such as thickets, scrub areas, farmlands and weedy fields. A resident of the west, northern populations migrate to Southern California, Texas and Mexico during the winter.
Lesser goldfinch pairs are monogamous. The female builds the cup-shaped nest without help from the male. Once the 3 to 5 eggs are incubating the male feeds the female. The nest is formed from leaves and bark woven together with spider webs and cocoons and lined with hair, fur and feathers. The female choses a forked branch which has enough nearby leaves to protect the nest from the sun.
What a lovely sight to watch the flashes of yellow and hear the soft chatter of the lesser goldfinches as they feed in our yard.