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American Goldfinch vs Lesser Goldfinch

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american goldfinch vs lesser goldfinch

The goldfinch is a finch that’s highly colored and characterized by a yellow wing patch and bright red face. Goldfinches typically breed in loose colonies and are sociable, and engage in pleasant liquid twittering songs and calls.

Goldfinches are generally seen scattered around trees, bushes, and rough ground with thistles. Many, however, have difficulties distinguishing American Goldfinch vs Lesser Goldfinch.

In this post, we will tackle how you can easily identify a Lesser Goldfinch vs American goldfinch.

American Goldfinch Lesser Goldfinch
Height 5 inches 4.5 inches
Wingspan 9 inches 8 inches
Body Bright yellow plumage on most body parts Yellow plumage  on underparts; some with hints of olive
Head Yellow and black cap Yellow throat, olive or black back of head
Bill colorful orange Grayish, drab
Undertail/Rump White undertail Yellow under tail
Food • Seeds of trees such as alder, elm, and birch.  • Barks • Twigs • Buds • Maple sap • Insects • Seeds such as weed, teasel, lavender, and thistle • Other plant matter • Aphids and other insects
Location floodplains and weedy fields throughout the Americas. open fields in the U.S. to South America.

Lesser Goldfinch vs American Goldfinch

In North America, you will find three goldfinch species, namely the American Goldfinch, the Lesser Goldfinch, and the Lawrence Goldfinch.

Birders often run across both American and Lesser Goldfinch in much of the Western United States while in Canada and the Eastern half of the United States, American Goldfinch is the only species birders will find in these areas.

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Male Goldfinches are easier to distinguish from each other but it would be harder to identify female goldfinches due to their lack of key identifying features.

Male American Goldfinches vs Male Lesser Goldfinches

lesser goldfinch
Lesser Goldfinch

The American Goldfinch with the scientific name of Spinus Tristis has a height of five inches and a wingspan of nine inches.

Its body is characterized by a bright yellow plumage on most parts including its face, back, and back of the head. The male American Goldfinch’s head is yellow with a black cap while its bill is a colorful orange.

When it comes to the rump and under the tail, the male American Goldfinch has a white under tail and rump patch.

In contrast, the male Lesser Goldfinch with a scientific name of Spinus Psaltria has a shorter height of 4.5 inches. Its wingspan is also shorter at eight inches.

The body of the male Lesser Goldfinch is characterized by yellow plumage on the underparts. However, its back part is either black or olive color. If they are from the western part, then their backs are most likely to be olive-colored.

The head of the male Lesser Goldfinch also differs slightly as its throat is yellow while the back of the head is either black or olive. Its cap is also black colored.

The wings of the male Lesser Goldfinch are similar to its American counterpart as they are black with white wing bars. The bill differs as the male Lesser Goldfinch is of grayish or more drab color.

The rump and undertail differ as well due to their yellowish undertail.

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Female American Goldfinches vs Female Lesser Goldfinches

american goldfinch
American Goldfinch

It will take longer for a birder or anyone for that matter to distinguish a female American Goldfinch from a female Lesser Goldfinch.

Female American Goldfinches’ plumage is highly similar to their male counterparts except they are drabber and they don’t have a black cap.

Overall, female American Goldfinches are yellow but their color is paler compared to the males. Their backs also have an olive wash which the male ones don’t possess.

When differentiating the Female American Goldfinch from a female Lesser Goldfinch note the following:

  • The female American Goldfinch has an orange bill while the Lesser Goldfinch has a gray drab bill
  • The female American Goldfinch has white under tail coverts while the Lesser Goldfinch has yellow under tail coverts
  • Both the female American Goldfinch and Lesser Goldfinch have grayish-toned bills in winter but the American Goldfinch typically loses its yellow tone from its plumage during winter.
  • On the other hand, the Lesser Goldfinch can maintain its stable yellow tone despite winter.

Eating Habits

Both American Goldfinch and Lesser Goldfinches are omnivorous. Here’s what each type of goldfinch eat

American Goldfinch eats the following:

  • Seeds of trees such as alder, elm, and birch.
  • Barks
  • Twigs
  • Buds
  • Maple sap
  • Insects

The American Goldfinch mainly eat seeds, which account for 80 percent of their diet. The rest comes from insects.

The Lesser Goldfinch eats the following:

  • Seeds such as weed, teasel, lavender, and thistle
  • Other plant matter
  • Aphids and other insects

The Lesser Goldfinch primarily feed on seeds, making up 90 percent of their diet. The rest comes from aphids and other invertebrates.

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Hunting Techniques

There are also differences in the hunting techniques of the American Goldfinch and the Lesser Goldfinch.

The American Goldfinch occasionally consumes insects during summertime but they do not seek them out actively. On the other hand, the Lesser Goldfinch are active foragers, always hunting for food in flocks except when nesting.

Where Can They Be Spotted?

American Goldfinches are often found in floodplains and weedy fields throughout the Americas. It is also possible to see these birds in orchards, backyards, cultivated areas, and roadsides

In contrast, Lesser goldfinches can be seen in open fields in the U.S. to South America. Although they prefer habitats located next to farmlands, desert oases, forest clearings, weedy fields, and scrubland.

Conclusion

It can be difficult to distinguish American Goldfinch vs Lesser Goldfinch but it is possible.

One telltale sign is the size and their wingspan as American Goldfinches typically are slightly bigger than the Lesser Goldfinches. Their colors can also give them away as the American goldfinch is a bit more colorful and brighter.

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