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Number of species: 79

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American Goldfinch - Spinus tristis

American Goldfinch has a partial preformative molt and a partial prealternate molt. Sex can generally be identified by plumage throughout the year, although the difference between males and females is more subtle in winter and as juveniles.

Age and plumage cycle can usually be determined reliably throughout the year. However, caution is required from late summer to mid-fall (primarily August to October), when the prejuvenile, preformative, and prebasic molts of individuals in a population may overlap. During this period, four age classes (HY, SY, AHY, ASY), four active molt categories (FPJ, FPF, SPB, and DPB), and five plumage categories (FCJ, FCF, FCA, DCB, and DCA) may be possible concurrently. The presence of alternate plumage (e.g., black cap and bright yellow body on males) and the extent of feather wear are particularly important clues during this period.

Quick tips

  • Compare the primary and greater coverts. In FCF (HY/SY) and FCA (SY) individuals, the black (male) or dark brown (female) greater coverts contrast with the paler and more worn primary coverts (as well as primaries and secondaries), compared to DCB (AHY/ASY) and DCA (ASY) individuals, which have wings that are largely uniformly blackish (male) or dark brown (female), and FCJ (HY) individuals, which have wings that are uniformly brownish.
  • Examine the tail. In FCF (HY/SY) and FCA (SY) individuals, outer rectrices are generally somewhat tapered and dark brown to blackish (male) or grayish-brown (female) with somewhat distinct whitish patches (male) or indistinct pale patches (female), compared to DCB (AHY/ASY) and DCA (ASY) individuals, which typically have broader outer rectrices that are black (male) or dark brown (female) with sharply delineated white (male) or fairly distinct whitish (female) patches.
  • Consider overall appearance. In FCA (SY) and DCA (ASY) individuals, body plumage is primarily yellow, with (males) or without (females) a black cap, compared to all other ages, which have predominantly beige body plumage.

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory (2016). Last updated by Marcel Gahbauer (Mar 2022)

The molt categories displayed below may be filtered by month.

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Click on any image below to bring up the side-by-side comparison tool.

Individuals not in molt

FCJ - (HY: June - October)
Generally beige to brown body, with buff wing bars; sex often not reliably distinguished, but (M) with darker wing and more distinct white patches on outer rectrices than (F)
No images available yet
FCF - (HY: September - December; SY January - June)
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 (M) to whitish (F) patches often having poorly defined edges
F
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FCA - (SY: February - November)
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 (M) to whitish (F) patches often having poorly defined edges
F
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DCB - (AHY: August - December; ASY January - June)
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 white patches (M) or moderately distinct whitish patches (F)
M
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F
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DCA - (ASY: February - November)
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 white patches (M) or moderately distinct whitish patches (F)
M
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F
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Individuals in active molt

FPJ - (HY: June - September)
Similar to FCJ; some natal down remaining and/or juvenile flight feathers still growing in
No images available yet
FPF - (HY: September - December)
Similar to FCF; some to all median coverts, some to all greater coverts, and occasionally the central tertial being replaced
No images available yet
FPA - (SY: February - July)
Body feathers being replaced, with yellow feathers growing in; up to six inner greater coverts and occasionally the central tertial being replaced
No images available yet
SPB - (SY: August - December)
Flight feathers being replaced, with retained juvenile primaries, secondaries, and/or primary coverts distinctly brownish and quite worn
No images available yet
DPB - (AHY: August - December)
Flight feathers being replaced, with retained primaries, secondaries, and/or primary coverts either distinctly adult (generally dark and less worn) or intermediate
No images available yet
DPA - (ASY: February - July)
Body feathers being replaced, with yellow feathers growing in; occasionally also up to two inner greater coverts being replaced
No images available yet

Applicable unknown plumage/age classes

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: 79

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