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A Lesser would have been more

December 4, 2005

I got excited for a moment this morning when I saw this bird at my feeder:

American Goldfinch (F)

The Lesser Goldfinch is a very rare occurrence in Colorado in the winter. But when I lived in California, goldfinches of either type were ho-hum birds even in the winter. I never spent much time trying to learn the subtle differences between Lessers and Americans when I lived there.

But this time, I had to school myself fast on the subject, at least until I remembered to get the camera. I wanted so much to make this female into a Lesser, but after a while I had to admit that the darkish bill wasn’t enough to overcome the light undertail coverts, the prominent wing bars, and the largish size for a goldfinch, all of which point strongly to American. Still, occasions like this are good exercises for me, forcing me to crack open Sibley (and Petersen et al.) and really learn the birds. I’ve now taken to heart an adage I overheard last September at Prewitt Reservoir, while among birders looking for a Curlew Sandpiper amid a slew of Stilts: “Look at every bird.”

Excellent advice.

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