Posted by: Dan | August 7, 2007

A Different Drummer: Lawrence’s Goldfinch

Among the more oddball migration patterns would have to be Lawrence’s Goldfinch (Carduelis lawrencei), which moves mostly to the east and west, rather than northward and southward, between seasons.

Most, but not always all, of these birds leave northern, central, and inland southern California in winter. They move into the coastal lowlands and into the lower parts of the southeastern California deserts, ranging irregularly (sometimes in large numbers) southeastward to northern Sonora and northwestern Chihuaha and eastward to the southern half of Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and even the area of El Paso, Texas. In some years mysteriously few birds are observed in winter; possibly the birds are in Sonora and Chihuahua, which are poorly covered by naturalists.

The Lawrence’s Goldfinch seems to have no loyalty to its breeding areas, being present in large number in a locality one year and absent the next. Its nomadic movements are probably related to availability of water and seed crops. The greatest eastward irruptions often occur in wet periods and are synchronized with irruptions of other seedeating birds such as the Red-breasted Nuthatch, the Red Crossbill, and the other North American goldfinches.


Gray body plumage, yellow wing markings, and a yellow patch on the center of the breast distinguish this bird from its close relatives, Lesser and American Goldfinches. The male Lawrence’s Goldfinch has a black face, forehead, and chin, and broad yellow wing bars. The female is similar to the male but duller overall, with an entirely gray head and face, and subtle yellow and gray wing bars.


Much of the breeding range of this species is under pressure from the rising human population and accompanying development. Especially given its relatively small overall population size, habitat loss from such encroachment may put the species at some risk. Significant further research is needed to clarify the population dynamics and movements of this species.


Song is a long, complex series of trills, burry notes, and chatter. Many song elements are imitations of other bird species’ vocalizations. Flight call is a distinctive “tink-ul.” Also issues harsh two-syllable phrases and single bell-like call notes.

  • Davis, J. N. 1999. Lawrence’s Goldfinch (Carduelis lawrencei). In The Birds of North America, No. 480 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
  • Davis, Jeff N. (June 2001). “A Closer Look: Lawrence’s Goldfinch”. Birding 33 (3): 212–221.
  • Lawrence’s GoldfinchAll About Birds
  • Lawrence’s GoldfinchAudubon Watchlist


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