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Lesser Goldfinch [or Dark-backed Goldfinch] – facts, photos and more

Updated on March 9, 2015

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A Variety of Lesser Goldfinches in a tree

Lesser goldfinch From The Crossley ID Guide Eastern Birds
Lesser goldfinch From The Crossley ID Guide Eastern Birds | Source

Interesting facts:

A group of goldfinches may have been pirates or miners at one time, for a few of the names they have are “007”, “treasury” and “vein”.

An American naturalist by the name of Thomas Say was the first to define the Lesser Goldfinch in the year 1823.

There are 5 subspecies often named since males are distinctly polymorphic; growth, in a less-advanced stage, is represented by at least 2 of them.

Mostly due to the geographical area, their molt shows a large zone of stages, with the molting period, the timing, and the pattern changing along with it all.

It comes in two colors - actually it has two races - more is explained in the ID capsule.


It is generally found within the area of 4.5” - 4.75“.

Wingspan: When it spreads its wings it is basically 8” wide.

Weight: The smallest goldfinch has an average body weight of 0.33 oz. It is smaller than a Song Sparrow and about the same size of an American Goldfinch.

Green-backed male

Lesser Goldfinches (Carduelis psaltria) at thistle feeder, female on the left, male on the right (See "ID" capsule)
Lesser Goldfinches (Carduelis psaltria) at thistle feeder, female on the left, male on the right (See "ID" capsule) | Source

Male - green-backed

Carduelis psaltria Male Tucson, AZ (See ID capsule)
Carduelis psaltria Male Tucson, AZ (See ID capsule) | Source

Black-backed male

Lesser Goldfinch - male
Lesser Goldfinch - male | Source

Lesser Goldfinch ID (Carduelis psaltria)

  • Male:

The male Lesser Goldfinch has two races. One race has a black back. It is seen in the western part of its range. While the other race has a dark green back and it is seen in the eastern part of its range. The western race also has a black cap, yellow belly and a white patch on each of the wings. The eastern race is black above but yellow below, with a whitish wing patch.

You can easily tell them from the American Goldfinch because the Lesser Goldfinch has a darker rump and a white wing patch on each wing.

  • Female:

The female looks somewhat greenish from above with an olive tinted nape but looks paler yellow from below. The undertail coverts (rump) are also yellow. The wings are a light black with white bars and a few streaks when the wings are closed. When the wings are open, in flight, there are whitish patches on them. At the base of the tail, you will notice a few white spots. Even though the females lack the black cap, the bill is stout and a dark gray color.

  • Juvenile:

When the juvenile is out of the egg long enough to get some color it resembles the female.

  • Immature:

The female immature is also similar to the adult female. It is just that the underparts are a little greener than the juvenile.

Choosing a goldfinch

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It eats a wide variety of seeds, from trees, weeds, grasses, also flower buds and berries. It also comes to feeders for sunflower hearts and thistle seed. Although they are primarily small seed eaters, especially thistle, they do eat bugs in the summer. They then regurgitate these insects for their young.

The Lesser Goldfinch has been seen at feeder stations with the American Goldfinch and the Lawrence's Goldfinch.

Even though the Lesser Goldfinch is smaller than the Lawrence's Goldfinch, when the ranges of these two happen to cross at feeding stations, the Lesser Goldfinch is the one who dominates.

Main diet

Primarily seeds
A few insects to supplement
Plus fruits, flowers and buds


They like to nest in loose, colonial groups of monogamous pairs. Nests are usually located in a vertical fork or branch of a tree, enclosed by condensed foliage.The female builds the nest, which is a solid, open cup made of bark, moss and plant stems lined with feathers, cotton and plant down, the nest is then placed in a tree 2’ – 30’ above the ground. The bird is able to breed up to 7,500’ high.

Eggs: It lays 3 – 6 eggs, which are light blue or bluish-white. Incubation: The eggs are watched by the female for 12 - 13 days while the male brings her food.

Incubation: The male feeds the female a mixture of regurgitated seeds while she is incubating, which is also fed to their young - plus young get regurgitated insects - when they arrive.

Fledging: Then the young take 12 - 14 days to leave the nest because they are altricial.

Brood: Once per year.


The Lesser Goldfinch lives in gardens, parks, suburban/urban settings and it also manages to live on roadsides. It is fairly abundant in thickets and woodland edges but it seems to like dry fields of brush almost exclusively. It likes oak savannas and woodlands.

Since it seems to be so flexible and adjustable, there are a good variety of ranges for it to choose from. It also can be found in weedy fields, forest clearings, scrub-lands, farmlands and even desert oasis.

A few of the more basic ones out in the west are oak, cottonwood, willow, cedar and chaparral.


The Lesser Goldfinch is a resident from Washington, Oregon and northern Nevada east to northern Colorado and about the southwestern part of Texas and south below the United States - Mexico border.

The eastern race is found from northern Colorado southward through Texas and westward to Utah and Arizona.

The western race covers Utah westward to the Columbia River.

Even though the two races are both out in the west and it may be confusing, Colorado and Utah seem to be the basic dividing line between both of them.

Virtually all of the adult males in southern Texas are black-backed, and virtually all that are west of Colorado and New Mexico are green-backed. Between Colorado and Texas the average amount of black increases clinically to the south and east within their range.

Migration - For migrating there are not too many. Only a few that are in the coldest parts of their range end up going a short distance from the highlands to the lowlands within their range.

Lesser Goldfinch singing


It sings slower, rough and more rambling than the American Goldfinch, with little relation of any notes. It does include the simulations of many call notes from other species.

The call is a special, very high, but clear and somewhat wiry “fleeee, feeeeyE-E” and “Tseee-eeew” with several changes to them. The call while in flight is a cracked but joining “chig-chig-chig”.

Conservation status:

The Lesser Goldfinch is in the ‘Least Concern’ category right now, but prior to that the rating was ‘Lower Risk’. There are no current special cares being taken about the population or the range of the Lesser Goldfinch. This bird is a native to North America plus some countries in Central America and South America. The bird is thought to be locally extinct in Cuba.

The Lesser Goldfinches have adapted to a wide variety of foods and environments, which is basically why the count for this bird has stayed stable.


The Lesser Goldfinch can be found in small to large flocks in winters in the same or drier residences than the American Goldfinch. Often they are found along with other goldfinches, Pine Siskins, and Dickcissels. It is drawn to habitats that include a good water source. The flight style of this goldfinch is similar to the American Goldfinch.

© 2013 The Examiner-1


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    • The Examiner-1 profile imageAUTHOR

      The Examiner-1 

      5 years ago

      They might just do that one day, let me know if you ever see any.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      They are a beautiful little bird. They don't seem to come this far east, but if they did, Boomer Lake would sure be a hot spot for them.


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