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Number of species: 80

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American Goldfinch - Spinus tristis

Male and female American Goldfinches can be readily distinguished while in alternate plumage (FCA/DCA; roughly from February-April to August or even September), but differ more subtly in basic plumage (FCF/DCB) in fall and winter. Ageing is simple in some cases, but can be complicated by unusually prolonged molt periods, which allow individuals of the same age and sex to have quite varying appearances at any given time - for example, FCF (SY) birds can often be recognized until August or September due to a late prebasic molt, therefore during that period it may be possible to have FCJ (HY), FCA (SY), DCB (AHY), and sometimes even recognizably obvious DCA (ASY) birds concurrently)

The prealternate molt can be protracted and variable in timing, beginning as early as mid-winter, and sometimes not completing until mid-summer. As such, there can be overlap between FCF and FCA (SY) and DCB and DCA (ASY).

Quick tips

  • Look at the wing in good light - on DCB/DCA (AHY/ASY) males it is nearly uniformly black; on DCB/DCA (AHY/ASY) females it is nearly uniformly dark brown to dull blackish; on FCF/FCA (HY/SY) males it is mostly dark brown with contrastingly blackish greater and median coverts; on FCF/FCA (HY/SY) females it is brown with contrastingly dark brown greater and median coverts
  • Consider the colour of the outer rectrices - on DCB/DCA (AHY/ASY) males there is a sharp and abrupt contrast between black and white; on FCF/FCA (HY/SY) males they are dark brown to blackish with fairly distinct whitish patches; on DCB/DCA (AHY/ASY) females they are dark brown with distinct whitish patches; on FCF/FCA (HY/SY) females they are usually grayish-brown with indistinct pale patches
  • Examine the shape of the outer rectrices - individuals with particularly broad and rounded rectrices are generally DCB/DCA (AHY/ASY), while those with distinctly narrow and pointed rectrices are generally FCF/FCA (HY/SY); however, intermediates can be difficult to assess

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory

The molt categories displayed below may be filtered by month.

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Individuals not in moult

FCF - (HY: August - December; SY January - February)
Greater coverts black (M) or dark brown (F), contrasting with somewhat paler primary coverts; rectrices blackish (M) or brownish (F) and fairly pointed, with white to whitish patches often having poorly defined edges
M
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Date: Nov 18
Hatch year
F
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Date: Nov 11
Hatch year
FCA - (SY: February - August)
Greater coverts black (M) or dark brown (F), contrasting with somewhat paler primary coverts; rectrices blackish (M) or brownish (F) and fairly pointed, with white to whitish patches often having poorly defined edges
M
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Date: May 25
Second year
F
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Date: Aug 6
Second year
DCB - (AHY: July - December; ASY January - March)
Wing feathers uniformly black (M) or dark brown (F), not contrasting notably with primary coverts; rectrices black (M) or dark brown (F), fairly broad and rounded, and usually with sharply delineated edges to white or whitish patches
M
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Date: Nov 18
After hatch year
F
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Date: Nov 9
After hatch year
DCA - (ASY: February - August)
Wing feathers uniformly black (M) or dark brown (F), not contrasting notably with primary coverts; rectrices black (M) or dark brown (F), fairly broad and rounded, and usually with sharply delineated edges to white or whitish patches
M
Thumbnail - MG2-2510-81002-Spinus_tristis_AOU_7_52-3171.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2510-81002-Spinus_tristis_AOU_7_52-3169.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2510-81002-Spinus_tristis_AOU_7_52-3170.jpg
Date: May 15
After second year
F
Thumbnail - MG2-2600-15867-Spinus_tristis_AOU_7_52-3168.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2600-15867-Spinus_tristis_AOU_7_52-3166.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2600-15867-Spinus_tristis_AOU_7_52-3167.jpg
Date: May 18
After second year
Categories unknown plumage age

Molt classes Age Months Key traits
M-FPF / UPU (FPF, SPB, DPB) U July - September Undergoing preformative or prebasic molt, but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FCF / UCU (FCF, SCB, DCB) U/AHY July - March In formative or basic plumage (molt completed), but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FPA / UPA (FPA, DPA) AHY February - April Undergoing prealternate molt, but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FCA / UCA (FCA, DCA) AHY February - August In alternate plumage (molt completed), but cycle is not reliably distinguishable

Number of species: 80

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