An Oddly Colored Goldfinch

Last Updated on March 22, 2021 by Nancie

An oddly colored leucistic female American Goldfinch on a feeder with two male goldfinches.
An Oddly Colored Goldfinch

The other day an oddly colored American Goldfinch showed up at my feeders. It looked just like a female American Goldfinch in breeding plumage except the black in her wings was very faded. She seems to be a leucistic goldfinch with “dilute plumage.”

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Identifying this Oddly Colored American Goldfinch

I only saw this oddly colored bird once and took the photo through a window, so please excuse the picture quality. Even so, you can see that her shape and general appearance fit a female American Goldfinch in breeding plumage.

She is mostly olive yellow. Look carefully, and you can even see white wing bars. But where her wing feathers would normally be black, they are a faded brownish gray color. Unlike an albino bird, her eyes and beak are the normal goldfinch colors. So she isn’t an albino. She is leucitic, a bird with a genetic condition that blocks pigment to feathers.

Leucistic Bird Color Variations

Leucism affects a wide range of bird species and affects each bird differently. So you are likely to see various colorations among these birds. For example, some leucitic birds have odd white patches that only affect some feathers and not others, giving them a “piebald” look. Some are completely lacking a particular color. Others, like this bird, have feathers that look faded with “dilute plumage.”

These odd color variations can sometimes make bird identification tricky. But in this case, it wasn’t particularly hard. She was hanging out with other goldfinches which is a big clue. Her general look, size, shape, location and behavior says goldfinch. And you can still mostly see female goldfinch color patterns. It’s just that some of them are faded.

Oddly colored Leucistic birds are interesting and a little out of the ordinary. But the missing pigment can cause problems for the bird, including weaker feathers, being more visible to predators and possibly making it harder to find a breeding partner. So this is a case when being different comes with some possible down sides.

Learn More About Leucism and Oddly Colored Birds

Bird genetics is a bit over my head so I’m not going to pretend I understand the science behind this. Here are some interesting (and easy to read) articles on oddly colored birds, leucism and other color abnormalities in birds if you would like to read more about it:

Sibley Guides: Abnormal Coloration in Birds: Melanin Reduction

Audubon Podcast: Why Is This Bird Half-White?

Cornell Lab Bird Academy: Bird Plumage Variations and Abnormalities

All About Birds: What Can Cause Birds To Show Weird Color Variations?

Avian Report: Bird Leucism

Learn More About American Goldfinches

All About Birds: American Goldfinch

Audubon: American Goldfinch

Attracting American Goldfinches post

Fall American Goldfinches post

Goldfinches Dropping Sunflower Seed on the Ground post

Mess Under Nyjer Feeders post

Also See: Maryland Backyard Birds.

Have you seen any leucistic birds in your yard or when you’ve been out birding? How did you identify them?


Want to read more posts about birds? When you subscribe below, you’ll get an email whenever a new post goes up (and ONLY then. Promise!)

Please Note: My blog includes some Amazon affiliate links. The small fees they provide help cover my site costs.

4 thoughts on “An Oddly Colored Goldfinch

  1. I found your blog a couple months ago and have enjoyed it immensely. Your posts are written with a beautiful precision and are loaded with useful and interesting information. Plus, I really appreciate the many links you include over a vast range of subjects. You have helped me a lot. Thank you for the great work you do!

  2. I haven’t yet seen any leucistic goldfinches, but I have been seeing a leucistic female cardinal at our feeders most evenings this winter. She’s quite striking, with her white head and pinkish crest and tail feathers. She showed up in Dec. 2019 at first, but I only saw her a few times that winter. Then, this winter (2021), she showed up with several male cardinals around dusk most evenings, until this past week. Maybe she’s nesting now, but I just hope she hasn’t been taken by the sharp-shinned hawk that has taken a couple of birds in our yard in the last month.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.