The flocks of House Finches at the park have got some reinforcements in the form of these Lesser Goldfinches. The two shown here are probably females or juveniles; the adult males have black crowns and backs. They are very similar to the House Finches in diet: about 98 percent vegetarian, including the diet they feed their chicks in the nest. The fennel thickets on the north and northwest sides of the park have now set seed, as have a number of weeds, so it’s a cornucopia for finches. These red and gold traveled together on the eastern edge of the Nature Area on the north side of the park.
It’s unclear where the goldfinches came from. They haven’t been studied very thoroughly. The climate seems mild enough for them to breed here. They’re very adaptable generally and thrive in a great variety of habitats, from chaparral wilderness to suburban subdivisions The House Finches appear to breed here, as we see them pretty much any time of year. But we see these goldfinches mainly in winter. I saw one in May and another in June two years ago, and those might have been in breeding mode, but they didn’t have company and seemed to be outliers. The major number of them must breed somewhere else. The availability of fresh water may be an issue. They have to drink several times a day. Many of the most popular nesting sites lie near rivers. One source notes that they breed at higher elevations in northern California, for example in the Sierra foothills, and may come to the shore in winter. That would make them short-range migrants compared to the White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows, and many others, which come from the far north.
The goldfinches are known to sing outside mating season, so we might get lucky and here one hold forth any day. They sing not only a standard goldfinch song list, they are talented imitators that can sing the songs of a dozen other species. This quality makes it a target for the cage bird trade in Central and South America, where this is the most commonly offered bird in markets. That’s illegal in the U.S.