Posted by: atowhee | August 9, 2012


The leaves on our two sunflowers plants are filagree. Some critter has been nibbling away at the green parts, leaving only a thin web of veins. You can see right through the leaf to the forest beyond.

I’ve been watching these leaves closely for a couple weeks now. I expected to find a malicious caterpillar, or perhaps beetles or leaf-cutters or even a grasshopper (though I’ve never seen a grasshopper in our garden). With all the various birds, including many insectivores, at our feeders, the insect count in our garden seems rather low. Who’s been eating our sunflowers’ leaves?
Here’s who:

That’s it: Lesser Goldfinches. They are daily in our garden for the nyger seed and other seeds. They are known to eat the leaves of ceanothus and perhaps other wild shrubs. I could find no mention in any of my references (including BNA online) indicating they eat sunflower leaves. But they sure do. Fortunately the plants are far enough along that the sunflower seed heads will mature before all the chlorophyll-filled leaves disappear.


  1. I’ve been noticing the same in my yard and caught the birds in action!

  2. […] the leaves are eaten by her local Lesser Goldfinches. They eat all the leaf except for the veins. Sounds familiar as I blogged about the tiny finches eating the sunflower leaves in my garden. Share this:EmailDiggRedditStumbleUponPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  3. Mine too! I thought they were wild canaries, but they must be the Lesser Goldfinches. They look exactly like the pilferers pictured.

  4. Thank you! Such sweet birds. I had the same experience as you! I figure, birds planted this round of sunflowers, the sunflowers are thriving, and there are plenty of leaves to go around to keep everybody happy. I actually enjoy hearing these little birds and watching them eat the leaves.

  5. Mystery solved! It’s Lawrence’s Goldfinch who are eating all but the veins of our sunflower and coneflower plants in our northern California garden. Such happy little birds; joy to watch them… and the plants seem to be doing alright.

    • do you have photos you can share? The Lawrence’s is a much sought after species because of its limited and unpredictable breeding range from year to year

  6. I’m in Los Angeles and have finch food and sunflowers! and, I guess, very happy finches! thanks for solving the leaf question.

  7. Thank you for the information. I live in Utah and this is the first time I have planted the giant sunflowers. Surprised me that it was the Goldfinches that are eating the sunflower leaves. Mystery solved!

    • glad you found my old blog…did it come up on google?

  8. Did you do anything to stop them? They are attacking my leaves as well!

    • Nope, the flowers were over, the seeds ripened and sunflowers are annuals so I let them go ahead…if it is spring, a netting will stop the birds or daggling shining foil-like material that twists in the breeZe can help as well, or find yourself a hungry pygmy-owl, that’ll be sure to work

  9. […] Five finch species in our garden today…sometimes three on the feeder at the same time.  If I hang out a welcome banner with images of sunflower seeds could I draw in a flock of Evening Grosbeaks, go for six finch sp.?  The finch family has a thing for sunflowers.  I’ve had Lessers eat the leaves right up to the veins in late summer, after the seeds are all gone.  They left me with sunflower skeletons.  You can click here to see pictures I got of one chowing down on sunflower leaf in August.  Here I have better images of the de-greened leaves. […]

  10. […] seen this before. Click here for blog I wrote about “green-backed leaf cutters” eight years ago. Then several other birders commented they had seen the same thing. One California birder […]

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