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Wed, Oct. 16

Lesser goldfinches: to leave or not to leave

A frequent question we field here at the bird store is whether lesser goldfinches will be leaving soon, or if they will be here all winter.

While lesser goldfinches are classified as a year-round resident, I consider them as being a partial migrator, meaning a portion of the total population migrates and a portion stays. The challenge for folks who feed finches is that there is no way of knowing whether your finches will stay or whether they will leave.

Migration behavior is impacted by what kind of winter we have. If this area experiences severe winter conditions, it is likely that more of the goldfinches will migrate. However, if we experience a mild winter, it is likely that more of the lesser finches will stay in this area throughout the winter months.

You might be wondering if you should take down your finch feeder in the wintertime or continue to feed the finches. My suggestion is to leave your finch feeder up. Even if your lesser goldfinches were to leave, there are other winter bird species that enjoy thistle (nyjer) seed such as house finches, pine siskins, American goldfinches, and on rare occasions, Lawrence's goldfinches.

Depending on what part of Prescott you live in, you may have pine siskins at your finch feeders year round. Pine siskins are an example of a species that generally lives at higher elevations most of the year, but gets pushed down to lower elevations in the wintertime when the weather becomes harsh.

It is not uncommon for people to have both pine siskins and American Goldfinches at their finch feeders in the wintertime and not realize that they are seeing birds other than lesser goldfinches. It pays to really take a close look at the birds visiting your finch feeder in winter, because more than likely you will have other nyjer eating types of birds frequenting your feeders.

Male American goldfinches go through a complete molt in the fall, losing their brilliant yellow and jet black breeding plumage to take on a drab, winter coat. This total change in plumage can stump an inexperienced birder into thinking they don't have American goldfinches because they think of them as a brightly colored bird. However, the birds they are seeing at their feeders in the wintertime can be very non-descript and plain.

Providing nyjer seed doesn't attract a large variety of birds, but it does bring in very specific types of birds. I frequently have the experience of talking to customers who express that they don't get lesser goldfinches in their yard. When I inquire whether they feed nyjer seed in their yard, the answer is no.

I then explain that if they provide nyjer seed they will be able to attract goldfinches to their yard. The advantage to feeding nyjer is that you get a lot of pretty birds, and no weeds since it is heat sterilized. After the heavy monsoon season we just had, the thought of no weeds sounds pretty good!

A quick update on Swainson's hawk migration activity. Hundreds and hundreds of hawks have congregated in Chino Valley this week, where they are feeding on the abundant grasshopper crop.

If you get a chance, I encourage you to take a quick trip out to Chino to see this amazing and thrilling phenomenon of migrating hawks.

Until next week, happy birding!

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, 1046 Willow Creek Road, Suite 105, Prescott, AZ 86301 or log onto and click on Ask Eric, which will link you with my e-mail address

Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, a backyard wild bird store located in the Safeway/K-Mart shopping center on Willow Creek Road. He has been an avid birder for over 40 years.

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