Lawrence's Goldfinch

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Image:Lawrence's Goldfinches.JPG

Common Name: Lawrence’s Goldfinch
Scientific Name: Carduelis lawrencei

Size: 3.9-4.7 inches (10-12 cm)

Habitat: North America; the breeding range of the species is confined to the Central Valley and coastal foothills of California, as well as the northern portion of Baja California. The distribution of the population within this range often varies widely from year to year; indeed, in some years the species seems to be virtually absent from its breeding range altogether, without appearing elsewhere. Movements between breeding and wintering grounds are also erratic and complex. Winter range encompasses southern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and northern Mexico. The species also occurs irregularly in its breeding range during winter. In certain years, large numbers may irrupt from California as far eastward as west Texas, but in other years, few if any birds are observed in this range.

Lawrence's Goldfinches typically nest in arid, open woodlands near chaparral, weed fields, and small bodies of water.

Status: Least Concern. Global Population: 200,000 mature individuals. Because of these erratic movements, it is difficult to estimate precisely the densities, dynamics, and gross numbers of populations. Breeding Bird Survey data between 1966 and 1993 show a downward but inconclusive trend in overall population size. Much of the breeding range of this species is under pressure from the rising human population and accompanying development. Especially given its relatively small overall population size, habitat loss from such encroachment may put the species at some risk.

Diet: Seeds. The species feeds mostly on seeds of annual plants, with a strong preference for fiddlenecks (Amsinckia spp.) in its breeding range; in winter, its diet varies by region. These birds generally travel in pairs or flocks.

Breeding: General markings: Gray body plumage, yellow wing markings, and a yellow patch on the center of the breast distinguish this bird from its close relatives, Lesser and American Goldfinches. The male Lawrence's Goldfinch has a black face, forehead, and chin, and broad yellow wing bars. The female is similar to the male but duller overall, with an entirely gray head and face, and subtle yellow and gray wing bars.

The Lawrence's Goldfinch seems to have no loyalty to its breeding areas, being present in large number in a locality one year and absent the next. Its nomadic movements are probably related to availability of water and seed crops. Breeding generally occurs between mid-April and late July. The nest is a loose cup of leaves and grass stems, with lichen where available, placed at mid-height in a tree. 3–6 white and unmarked (sometimes very pale blue) eggs are laid.

Cool Facts: Spinus or Carduelis? There’s an ornithological divide on what family this bird resides in. The American Ornithological Society says “Spinus” but everyone else says “Carduelis”. Lawrence's Goldfinch was named by John Cassin in 1850 for his colleague George Lawrence, a New York businessman and ornithologist.

Unlike most migratory birds, Lawrence's Goldfinch moves mostly to the east and west, rather than northward and southward, between seasons.

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