Lawrence’s goldfinches (Carduelis lawrencei) are found primarily in California - specifically Baja California. In summer, Lawrence’s goldfinches are also found in the central valley and in the foothills of Sierra Nevada. In winter, they will migrate from the inland, northern, and central areas of California to the coastal parts of southeastern California. Some Lawrence’s goldfinches move east toward southern Arizona or New Mexico. Others migrate south to northern parts of Sonora and Mexico. Few Lawrence’s goldfinches are observed in winter since many migrate to Sonora or Mexico, which are areas not well covered by naturalists. The biggest migration occurs during periods of high rain; this is seen in many species of seed-eating birds. (Eastman, 1997; Fenimore, 2008; Semenchuck, 1992)
Lawrence’s goldfinches are found in habitats that are associated with oak trees. They are primarily found in central and southern oak woodlands or chaparrals. Central oak woodlands are primarily located in the San Joaquin Valley, while southern oak woodlands are found in lower elevation areas in southern California. Chaparral habitats exist in areas on the coast and in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Lawrence’s goldfinches tend to nest in dry, open woodlands like the ones stated above. They like to nest in woodland areas that have chaparrals as well as areas that contain a source of freshwater. Lawrence’s goldfinches also nest in habitats such as juniper woodlands and coastal scrublands. When they do live near humans, Lawrence’s goldfinches tend to stay around ranches, where they are able to feed in weedy fields. When Lawrence’s goldfinches are not breeding they tend to live in habitats that are similar to the habitats they nest in. In addition to those habitats, Lawrence’s goldfinches make nests in river floodplains, weedy fields, roadsides, orchards, and gardens. (Beedy and Pandolfino, 2013; Mobley, 2019)
Lawrence’s goldfinches average 4.75 in in length and weigh approximately 110 g. The beaks of both sexes are grey with some pink or flesh coloration. They have black tails with white bands and yellow wings, bottoms, and breasts. They have a duller plumage color in winter, which usually brightens after spring. Lawrence’s goldfinches display some sexual dimorphism. Males have black faces and are paler than females. Females are more brown in color and lack the black coloration of males. Females also have a duller color of yellow. ("Birdlife International", 2016; Jardine, 2014)
In spring, flocks of Lawrence’s goldfinches settle in busy nesting areas, after which pairs form. During this time of year, males are not tolerant of rivals within their flock and may even attack other males. Usually, such aggressive behavior begins with a threat display in which males lower their wings, raise their tails, and move side to side while singing.
Males also use singing to attract females. During courtship displays, males and females face each other with their bills touching and bow. Males regurgitate food for females. Males also chase females during flight and it has been said that they also mate with females during flight. When they are receptive to mating, females vibrate their wings and raises their tails.
After Lawrence’s goldfinches form pairs, females gather material to build nests. They are usually accompanied by their male mates when doing so. Males typically accompany females and sing while they are building nests. Males defend nests while females lay eggs. After eggs are laid, males become less aggressive and share incubation duties with females. Different pairs within the same species nest next to one another without conflict, as evidenced by observations of small colonies of nests. Paired males and females continue to bond throughout the remainder of the nesting season. They continue to rub bills, chase, and call to each other. They have even been observed to mate after previous offspring have hatched. (Beedy and Pandolfino, 2013; Coutlee, 1968; Davis, 1999)
Lawrence’s goldfinches typically breed once per year, in spring. Females lay broods of 3 to 6 eggs, which take an average of 12.5 days to hatch. It takes several weeks for young Lawrence’s goldfinches to fledge and reach independence. They are considered sexually mature after 6 to 12 months.
Both male and female Lawrence’s goldfinches help take care of hatchlings, bringing food and defending their nests until young are independent and capable of leaving the nest on their own.
Information on the average lifespan of Lawrence’s goldfinches is minimal. The maximum recorded age of one individual was 11 years old. The average lifespan is estimated to be 3 to 6 years in the wild. (Willoughby, et al., 2002)
Lawrence’s goldfinches forage on the ground and along branches – hopping between them. They are agile, which is typical for finches. When flying, they beat their wings quickly to gain altitude and then rest before beating their wings again. This results in a sinusoidal flight pattern. Lawrence’s goldfinches engage in preening, head scratching, bathing, and stretching behaviors. The warmth of the sun tends to induce preening and they bathe in shallow water - puddles with depths of about 0.1 cm. When bathing, Lawrence’s goldfinches dip their heads and lower breasts into the water and fluff their feathers. Females will occasionally sleep in nests while incubating eggs during the day. Lawrence’s goldfinches also regularly sunbathe, mostly during the first couple hours of sunlight and in the afternoon. Most other activity also occurs in the early morning and late afternoon. (Davis, 1999)
Although no exact range is reported, Lawrence’s goldfinches defend a territory during breeding season. Outside of breeding season, both males and females travel outside of their typical range to forage with their flock. (Coutlee, 1968; Willoughby, et al., 2002)
Males sing a long variety of pitched notes that result in tinkles and trills. They have a higher pitch and a sing more musically when compared to other goldfinches. They also imitate other bird species such as wrens, thrushes, and falcons. Distinctively, these birds give out a "tink-oo" sound prior to flight. They rarely give out harsh alarm calls and contact calls as these are left to nesting seasons.
Lawrence’s Goldfinch respond to auditory cues from other goldfinches, as well as virtually simulated calls made by researchers. During nesting seasons, response to the auditory cues of other finches is likely to be vital to help search for mates. Similar to other goldfinches, Lawrence’s goldfinches call using rising pitches that nestlings develop as they grow. Since both mother and father take care of them, nestlings generally develop chirping sounds that are similar to their parents. Some studies show that Lawrence’s goldfinches imitate bird songs of other species by incorporating them into their own unique songs. These species cover a wide range geographically, thus the species that are imitated vary widely. (Coutlee, 1968)
Lawrence’s goldfinches are primarily herbivorous. Their diet mostly consists of plant buds and certain fruits. They do not eat insects often, with the exception of the larvae of jumping gall wasps (Neuroterus saltatorius). Similar to American goldfinches, they often eat seeds whole. They may also husk seeds quickly before swallowing them. When feeding, Lawrence’s goldfinches will perch themselves inside the plant they are eating from. They can also feed hanging upside-down in order to reach seeds. In springtime Lawrence’s goldfinches primarily feed on the seeds of fiddlenecks, although most are now endangered and therefore scarce. Other food sources include chamise, mistletoe, coffeeberry, pigweed, inkweed, and thistles. (Balph and Balph, 1979; Mobley, 2019)
The most common predators of Lawrence’s goldfinches are American kestrels (Falco sparverius), various weasels (Genus Mustela), blue jays (Cyanocitta cistata), and eastern garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis). Both domestic and feral cats (Felis catus) prey on Lawrence’s goldfinches. These predators will destroy nests and crack eggs, which kills hatchlings. Adult Lawrence’s goldfinches will sometimes chase predators away from their eggs. Also, the nests of these species are commonly built in trees which reduces the risk of predation from terrestrial animals. (Coutlee, 1968; Willoughby, et al., 2002)
Because they can fly long distances and their diet mainly consists of nuts and seeds, Lawrence’s goldfinches serve as effective seed dispersers. This plays an important role in the health of their habitats. Along with other goldfinch species, brown-headed cowbirds tend to parasitize the nests of Lawrence's goldfinches. They also have a few known external parasites, including blowfly maggots (Protocalliphora azurea) and quill mites (Aulobia cardueli). Lawrence’s goldfinches also serve as hosts for internal parasites such as avian trichomoniasis (Trichomonas gallinae), which are known to cause intestinal issues in this species. (Dawson, 2014; Mansfield, 1995)
Lawrence’s goldfinches are found mainly in California and are usually found near areas with water. They are popular among birdwatchers, since they can often be found eating from bird feeders in back yards.
Lawrence’s goldfinches are not known to be threatened by human activity. It is even said that deforestation may be beneficial to these species, since it will result in a decline in neotropical migrants. Such a decline would benefit short-distance migrants such as Lawrence’s goldfinches. (Dawson, 2014; Willoughby, et al., 2002)
There are no known negative impacts of Lawrence’s goldfinches on human health or economy.
Like many other Goldfinch species, Lawrence’s Goldfinch is protected under the Migratory Bird Act. They are considered a species of “least concern” on the IUCN Red List and have no special status on the US Federal List or in the CITES appendices.
Ashley Victorian (author), California State University, San Marcos, Tracey Brown (editor), California State University, San Marcos, Galen Burrell (editor), Special Projects.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.
uses sound to communicate
living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
parental care is carried out by females
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
an animal that mainly eats seeds
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
parental care is carried out by males
marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.
imitates a communication signal or appearance of another kind of organism
Having one mate at a time.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).
scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.
A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.
A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.
living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.
uses sight to communicate
2016. Birdlife International. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016.
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Clement, P., A. Harris, J. Davis. 2010.
Finches and Sparrows.. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
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Dawson, W. 2014. Pine Siskin Spinus Pinus. In the birds of North America, 12/1: 268.
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Fenimore, B. 2008. Backyard Birds of Pennsylvania. Audubon, 13/1: 334-350.
Jardine, D. 2014. On the spring-squall arrival of a pine siskin (Carduelis pinus). Counterpoints, 452/2: 27-37.
Linsdale, J. 1957. Goldfinches on the Hastings Natural History Reservation. Am. Midl. Nat., 57/1: 1-119.
Mansfield, J. 1995. Impact of intestinal coccidiosis on the American goldfinch, Carduelis tristis.. UM, 4/1: 592.
Mobley, J. 2019. "Long-tailed tyrant" (On-line). Birds of the World. Accessed March 05, 2020 at https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/species/lottyr1/cur/introduction?media=photos.
Semenchuck, G. 1992. The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Alberta. Federation of Alberta Naturalist, 12/2: 356.
Willoughby, E., M. Murphy, H. Gorton. 2002. Molt, Plumage Abrasion, and Color Change in Lawrence’s Goldfinches. The Wilson Bulletin, 114:3: 380-392.