E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Spinus psaltria (Say, 1823)
Lesser Goldfinch
Family: Fringillidae
Photo of species

© Jeremy Gatten  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #14180)

E-Fauna BC Static Map
Distribution of Spinus psaltria in British Columbia
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Species Information

Status and Occurrence of the Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria) in British Columbia.

By Rick Toochin

(View the full article with photos here.)

Introduction and Distribution

The Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria) is a species that has two distinct subspecies. The northern and western subspecies is (S. p. hesperophilus) commonly referred to as the “green-backed” form of Lesser Goldfinch (Sibley 2000, Beadle and Rising 2006, Dunn and Alderfer 2011). This subspecies is resident in its range from southern Washington State south through western and southeastern Oregon, across northeastern California into northern Nevada, and northern Utah south through California and central Arizona to southern Baja California and the southern Sonora region of Mexico (Beadle and Rising 2006). The nominate subspecies (Spinus p. psaltria) also commonly referred to as the “black-backed” form of the Lesser Goldfinch is a resident in its range from central-eastern Arizona, to northern Colorado, northwestern Oklahoma, through north and central Texas south through central eastern and southern Mexico to Guerrero, Oaxaca and central Veracruz in Mexico (Beadle and Rising 2006). There is interbreeding of both subspecies in the areas between Colorado and northern Texas (Sibley 2000). Birds found in southern Texas through Mexico are of the black-backed subspecies (Spinus p. psaltria) (Sibley 2000). Birds found west of Colorado and New Mexico are of the green-backed subspecies (S. p. hesperophilus) (Sibley 2000). The Lesser Goldfinch is an accidental vagrant to the eastern United States with the furthest eastern American record coming from the State of Maine (Beadle and Rising 2006, Dunn and Alderfer 2011). The Lesser Goldfinch in the past was considered a casual species to British Columbia but its status is quickly changing to a rare regular species as records increase in frequency (Campbell et al. 2001, Toochin et al. 2013, Please see Table 1). All 13 records of Lesser Goldfinch in British Columbia are of the green-backed subspecies (S. p. hesperophilus) (Campbell et al. 2001, Toochin et al. 2013, Please see Table 1). The only other Canadian record for this species is an adult female found on August 10, 1982 from southern Ontario (Godfrey 1986). There are no records of Lesser Goldfinch for Alaska (West 2008). The frequency of records is increasing in British Columbia and this species should be watched for in the future by keen observers.

Occurrence and Documentation

Lesser Goldfinches have been slowly pushing north over the past 60 years. The first record for Washington State came from the southern town of Camas in mid-August 1951 (Wahl et al. 2005). Since that time Lesser Goldfinches have become an established species in Washington State and have remained a resident along the Columbia River in Klickitat County with birds turning up in the rest of State (Wahl et al. 2005). In British Columbia the first record of a Lesser Goldfinch was of an adult collected by T.T. McCabe at Indianpoint Lake near Bowron Lake Park on June 9, 1931 (Dickinson 1953, Campbell et al. 2001, Toochin et al. 2013). Over the next 76 years there were just three valid sightings in the Province until 2007 (Campbell et al. 2001, Toochin et al. 2013, Please see Table 1). It appears that in the past 6 years, since 2007, Lesser Goldfinch records have increased exponentially and have occurred on Vancouver Island in Shirley, in Vancouver, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Hope, Lillooet, Princeton and in Lardeau (Cecile 2007c, Johnston 2009, Charlesworth 2011c, Toochin 2012a, Toochin 2012b, Toochin 2012c, Toochin et al. 2013, Please see Table 1). There are 13 records for the Province with occurrences spread out throughout the year. Out of these records just about half of them come from the month of May (Please see Table 1). So far, 10 of the 13 records for British Columbia are of adult males which are logical given how much more obvious males are to females. It is likely that females do occur as frequently as males in the Province but go largely undetected. Almost all records of the Lesser Goldfinch in the Province are of birds coming to feeders and being loosely in the company of American Goldfinches. With more feeder watchers and careful scrutiny, it is likely that this species will continue to increase in records in the future.

Table 1: British Columbia records of Lesser Goldfinch

1.(1) ad m June 9, 1931: T.T. McCabe (specimen: MCZ 281803) Indianpoint Lake near Bowron Lake Park (Dickinson 1953, Campbell et al. 2001, Toochin and Fenneman 2008)
2.(1) adult female May 17, 1958: K. Racey (specimen: PMNH 72201) Huntingdon (Racey 1958, Campbell et al. 2001, Toochin 2012c)
3.(1) adult male October 22-23, 1983: Tony Greenfield, mobs (photo) Sechelt (Hunn and Mattocks 1984a, Campbell et al. 2001, Toochin and Fenneman 2008)
4.(1) adult male May 11-16, 1999: R.J. Herzig, mobs (BC Photo 1789) near Princeton (Campbell et al. 2001, Toochin and Fenneman 2008)
5.(1) adult male May 5-6, 2007: Marlene Johnston: Lardeau Cecile 2007c, Johnston 2009, Toochin and Fenneman 2008)
6.(1) adult male June 11-28 & July 19-August 21, 2008: Stan Olson, mobs (photo) 2093 Topaz Street, Clearbrook , Abbotsford (Johnston 2009, Toochin 2012c)
7.(1) adult male March 11, 2011: Stephen Forgacs (photo) 8th Ave. & Blanca St., Pt. Grey, Vancouver (Charlesworth 2011c, Toochin 2012a) (1) adult male April 10, 2011: Steve Forgacs: 9th Ave. & Trimble St., Pt. Grey, Vancouver (Charlesworth 2011c, Toochin 2012a)
8.(1) male April 30 –May 3, 2011: Cathy Carlson, mobs (photo) 2900 Fishboat Bay Road, Shirley (Charlesworth 2011c, Toochin 2012b)
9.(1) adult male January 22-25, 2012 : Thalia Grant, mobs (photo) Ortona Ave, Vancouver (Toochin 2012a) (1) adult male February 15, 2012: Thalia Grant, mobs (photo) Ortona Ave, Vancouver (Toochin 2012a)
10.(1) adult female February 11, 2012: RT : north end of Topaz Dr., Sardis [with 8 American Goldfinches](Toochin 2012c)
11.(1) adult male April 23-24, 2012: Ian Routley, mobs (photo) Lillooet (BC Bird Alert Blog: Accessed April 25, 2012)
12.(1) adult male May 18-20, 2012: Patricia Elwell, mobs (photo) Princeton (BC Bird Alert Blog: Accessed May 21, 2012) {br/{ 13.(1) adult female May 13, 2013: Rick Toochin, Al Russell: Hope (R. Toochin Pers. Comm.)

Hypothetical Records:

1.(1) imm Sept 15-16, 1983: Brian M. Kautesk, JAM, HM: Jericho Park, Vancouver (Hunn and Mattocks 1984a, Toochin 2012a) [accepted by VRBC but details are questionable]
2.(1) dark-backed subspecies Sept 6, 1993: Mike Price: Jericho (Siddle 1994a, Davidson 1994, Campbell et al. 2001) [record accepted by BCFO but details are questionable]

Status Information

Origin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
NativeSNAAccidentalNot Listed
BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Synonyms and Alternate Names

Carduelis psaltria (Say, 1823)

Additional Range and Status Information Links

Additional Photo Sources

General References

Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2021. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 2024-04-22 10:04:33 AM]
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