Lesser goldfinches – to stay or not to stay
One of the more commonly asked questions I field each day is whether or not the lesser goldfinches, which are so abundant in the Prescott area in the summer months, will stick around over the winter months. To answer this question I refer customers to the information contained in Carl Tomoff's "Birds of Prescott, Arizona" checklist.
Carl's checklist uses a variety of symbols to indicate the relative abundance and seasonal status of Prescott-area birds. For example, the symbol "c" stands for "common," and the symbol "f" stands for "fairly common." Other symbols are "W" for winter residents, "S" for summer residents, and "P" for species which are permanent residents – bird species that are in the Prescott area year-round with little or no seasonal movement.
Lesser goldfinches are listed in the checklist as c-S;f-W. This means lesser goldfinches are common in the summer months, and fairly common in the winter months.
Lesser goldfinch numbers will dip a little in the winter months, as a percentage of the total population will migrate to more seasonal climes, but a larger percentage will actually stay here in Prescott and ride out the winter.
The reason many customers have asked whether goldfinches stick around is because they did not want to buy more nyjer (thistle) seed if the goldfinches would be taking off soon. The answer to the question is to stock up on nyjer, as you will likely have not only lesser goldfinches but also some of their feathered friends! In the winter months the number of bird species eating at your thistle feeder is likely to increase.
Lesser goldfinches wintering here will soon be joined by the American goldfinch, which also winters in Prescott. American goldfinches are listed in the "Birds of Prescott, Arizona" checklist as f-W, meaning they are fairly common in the winter months.
In winter you have the same probability of entertaining American goldfinches at your feeders as the lesser goldfinches, since they are both listed as f-W.
Another species that really enjoys thistle seed that you are likely to encounter in the winter months is the pine siskin.
This small thistle-eating bird is similar in behavior to goldfinches, and will flock to thistle feeders in large numbers.
This species is listed as c-W;f-S, so they are actually more abundant in the Prescott area in the winter months than in the summer months.
Pine siskins are typically found during the summer in forested areas such as in Groom Creek, Walker and in Prescott neighborhoods that border the national forest such as Timber-ridge.
During the winter months pine siskins tend to wander and can be found in a variety of habitats including residential areas and in mixed habitats with piñon pine, juniper and oak chaparral.
Regardless of where you live, keep your eye out for pine siskins this winter.
I've had many customers comment that the number of lesser goldfinches they are seeing at their feeders is down.
Part of the explanation for this is the fact that mom and dad are busy nesting right now!
While it seems very late for nesting activity, this is part of goldfinch biology—they are late nesters.
Here at Jay's Bird Barn in the last week I have observed two active nests, one with babies, and one with four eggs!
If you have specific questions, or issues related to wild birds which you would like discussed in future articles, you can submit them to Jay's Bird Barn, P.O. Box 11471, Prescott, AZ 86304, or log on to my web site, www.JaysBirdBarn.com and click on "Ask Eric" which will link you with my new e-mail address Eric@JaysBirdBarn.com. Until next week, happy birding!
Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn located at Watters Garden Center. He has been an avid birder for close to 40 years.