Lawrence's Goldfinch

Carduelis lawrencei

Glen Tepke
  • FRINGILLIDAE
  • 150,000

This handsome goldfinch is endemic to the arid woodlands of California and northern Baja California. Its distribution is highly erratic throughout its breeding range; where the species is found in considerable numbers one year, it may be completely absent the next. Its seasonal movements are also quite variable and poorly understood.

Identification
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.

Distribution and Population Trends
The breeding range of the species is confined to the Central Valley and coastal foothills of California, as well as the northern portion of Baja California. The distribution of the population within this range often varies widely from year to year; indeed, in some years the species seems to be virtually absent from its breeding range altogether, without appearing elsewhere. Movements between breeding and wintering grounds are also erratic and complex. Winter range encompasses southern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and northern Mexico. The species also occurs irregularly in its breeding range during winter. In certain years, large numbers may irrupt from California as far eastward as west Texas, but in other years, few if any birds are observed in this range.

Because of these erratic movements, it is difficult to estimate precisely the densities, dynamics, and gross numbers of populations. Breeding Bird Survey data between 1966 and 1993 show a downward but inconclusive trend in overall population size.

Ecology
Lawrence's Goldfinches typically nest in arid, open woodlands near chaparral, weed fields, and small bodies of water. Breeding generally occurs between mid-April and late July. The species feeds mostly on seeds of annual plants, with a strong preference for fiddlenecks (Amsinckia spp.) in its breeding range; in winter, its diet varies by region. These birds generally travel in pairs or flocks.

Threats
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.

Conservation
Significant further research is needed to clarify the population dynamics and movements of this species.

What Can You Do?
Volunteers are crucial to the success of programs that monitor the long-term status of wintering populations of Lawrence's Goldfinch and other bird species. Audubon's Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is one of the longest-running citizen-science monitoring programs in the world and has helped to follow changes in the numbers and distribution of Lawrence's Goldfinch. To learn more about the CBC and how you can participate, visit: http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc.

Audubon's Important Bird Area program is a vital tool for the conservation of Lawrence's Goldfinch as well as other species. To learn more about the Important Bird Areas program and how you can help, visit: http://www.audubon.org/bird/iba/.

Information on where Lawrence's Goldfinches occur and in what numbers is vital to conserving the species. Help in monitoring this and other species by reporting your sightings to eBird. A project of Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird is the world's first comprehensive on-line bird monitoring program: http://www.audubon.org/bird/ebird/index.html.

References
Davis, Jeff 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.