Finches and Old World Sparrows of Maricopa County
Cassin's Finch Carpodacus cassinii
The Cassin's Finch is found in the west, where it favors habitats of mixed coniferous forests. This bird is found in pairs during breeding season, but is gregarious during winter. The diet of the Cassin's Finch consists of seeds, insects, and berries. It's song is a loud and musical warble, echoeing throughout the surrounding forests. The Cassin's Finch mainly winters in Arizona, but does have a limited breeding range in the northeastern part of Arizona. In some years, flocks of Cassin's Finches move into southern and lower elevations when food source is low further north. This is the best way to find a Cassin's Finch in Maricopa County, who are most likely to be found in Upper Sonoran foothills and riparian areas, as well as Transition Zones from late fall through all of winter, and sometimes into spring. Good places to look are: Area 1 (Sunflower, Mount Ord, Slate Creek Divide, Four Peaks Wildnerness Area) and Area 11 (Lower Camp Creek, Mount Humboldt, Seven Springs Recreation Area).
House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus
The House Finch is abundant and widespread in North America, especially in the Lower 48. This bird is common and seen everywhere throughout Maricopa County year round, from urban areas and deserts all the way up sometimes to the forested Transition Zones.
Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra
In coniferous forests of the north, the Red Crossbill is found. This bird is named well, as it's upper and lower mandibles cross over each other, which helps the Red Crossbill tear pine cones apart to feed on seeds. Red Crossbills are very irruptive, and can be found well outside of their normal range during some years. They are very vocal but are often hard to see, as they tend to feed near the tops of conifer trees. From the tops of trees, they hang upside down while feeding on seeds, and other food sources that include insects. Red Crossbills are found throughout much of the west, most of Canada, and some of the northeastern United States, in favored forest habitat. In Maricopa County, Red Crossbills are often found throughout the year in migrations and winter (most months except June and July) in small to large numbers. Irruptive years may result in a much higher amount of birds detected. They can be found in the higher elevation pine and oak forests in Maricopa County, such as Mount Ord, Slate Creek Divide, and Four Peaks Wilderness Area (Area 1). Mount Ord is a great place to view this species in winter and early spring, when there is still snow on the mountain. In 2011 in January-March, Red Crossbills were present on Mount Ord in very high numbers, where they actually chose to breed. Red Crossbills are infact, very early breeders.
Pine Siskin Spinus pinus
The Pine Siskin is a widespread bird of forests in western North America, Canada, and the northern United States. It is a widspread winter resident throughout most of the Lower 48, as much of it's far northern populations migrate well south of it's breeding grounds. This bird may be extremely abundant in the winter months, forming flocks with finches and goldfinches. Wintering birds are found in forests as well, but also open areas and fields. This small finch feeds on insects and seeds as it forages both on the ground and high in trees. In Maricopa County, the best places to find Pine Siskins are in Transition Zone forests in the Highway 87 Area (Area 1) that include Mount Ord, Slate Creek Divide, and Four Peaks Wilderness Area. Pine Siskins are also found in Upper Sonoran Zones sometimes, in places with taller trees and open clearings. Sunflower (Area 1) and Lower Camp Creek (Area 11) are two examples of Upper Sonoran settings where Pine Siskins may occasionally be seen. Look for the Siskins especially from October through May (excluding most of the hotter months) in Maricopa County, especially in Transition Zones. Winter months hold more potential for seeing higher numbers of Pine Siskin, which the bird is more uncommon overall.
Lesser Goldfinch Spinus psaltria
The highly vocal Lesser Goldfinch is found throughout the southwest, where it is very common and abundant. This goldfinch is very small and is smaller than the familar American Goldfinch. Lesser Goldfinches are found easily in Maricopa County: in open areas with brushy edges, riparian areas, rural areas, and sometimes habitats as high in elevation as Transition Zones. They are found in large numbers, eating weed seeds and insects.
Lawrence's Goldfinch Spinus lawrencei
The Lawrence's Goldfinch mainly breeds in California and Baja California, in dry interior foothills covered in chaparral, riparian woodlands, weedy patches at open field edges, and pinyon juniper woodlands. Like the Lesser Goldfinch, this goldfinch is also very small and prefers similar diets of weed seeds and insects. In Maricopa County, the Lawrence's Goldfinch is found mainly in open areas with weeds with plenty of food source, as well as riparian woodlands. Lawrence's Goldfinces are mainly found in late fall through winter, and into spring. Some years are much better than others, and range from Lawrence's Goldfinches being common in numbers to being very hard to find and mostly absent. Lawrence's Goldfinches have even bred in Maricopa County at the Hassayampa River Preserve (Area 10) in decent numbers over the last few years, along the Mesquite Meader Trail. Gilbert Water Ranch (Area 4) is usually a good location to find this goldfinch in fall and winter.
American Goldfinch Spinis tristis
The American Goldfinch is the most widespread of the three North American goldfinches, being found throughout much of North America. It is the largest of the three, although it is still a small bird. It is found in open areas with limited shrubs and trees, farm areas, as well as suburban areas. American Goldfinches feed on a higher variety of food sources than the other two goldfinces, as the diet consists of weed seeds, insects, and berries. In Maricopa County, the American Goldfinch is found throughout the winter and much of spring and fall as migrants. It is usually located by it's distinctive voice and flight call. Look in similar habitats for this species that the Lesser Goldfinch also frequents.
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
The House Sparrow was introduced in New York City in the 1850's from Europe. It has drastically grown in it's population since then throughout much of North America. It is observed very easily and abundantly throughout the entire year in Maricopa County, especially in mad-made areas in urban settings. This bird is even commonly seen feeding in McDonald's parking lots, feeding on french fries and other leftovers. It is a nuisance in most areas, as it competes aggressively with native birds for nesting purposes.
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