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Cassin's Finch

Haemorhous cassinii ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: FRINGILLIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Near Threatened

Slightly less well known than its lookalikes (House Finch and Purple Finch), the Cassin’s Finch is the characteristic rosy-tinged finch of the mountains of western North America. Small flocks twitter and forage in the tall evergreen forests and in groves of quaking aspen. Along with range and habitat, a good way to sort them out is to learn the Cassin’s Finch’s peaked head shape and thick, straight-edged bill. Males sing a rollicking song that includes mimicked calls of other birds.

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Keys to identification Help

Finches
Finches
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Cassin’s Finches are small songbirds with peaked heads and short-medium tails. Their heavy bills are fairly long and straight-sided, and their tails are obviously notched. Their wings are long and, when perched, the tips project farther down the tail than in other finches.

  • Color Pattern

    Adult males are rosy pink overall with the most intense red on the crown. Female and immature Cassin’s Finches are brown-and-white birds with crisp, dark streaks on the chest and underparts. Both males and females have streaked undertail coverts and often show a thin, white eyering.

  • Behavior

    Cassin’s Finches feed primarily on tree buds and seeds, and they mix with other montane finches such as crossbills and siskins. Listen for their rich, warbling song, which often includes parts of other birds’ songs, and their sweet, “tulip” call notes.

  • Habitat

    Cassin’s Finches live in evergreen forests in the mountains up to about 10,000 feet elevation. In winter, they may move to lower elevations. They feed heavily upon seeds of pines and quaking aspen.

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Field MarksHelp

  • Adult Male

    Cassin's Finch

    Adult Male
    • Rosy pink overall with more intense red on crown
    • Slightly crested
    • Paler nape
    • Long bill
    • © Mike Wisnicki, Grand Forks, British Columbia, Canada, May 2011
  • Female

    Cassin's Finch

    Female
    • Stocky with long wings and tail
    • Very crisply streaked underparts and undertail
    • Thin white eye-ring
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Colorado, April 2009
  • Adult Male

    Cassin's Finch

    Adult Male
    • Stocky, long-tailed finch
    • Rosy pink throughout with more intense red on crown
    • Long wings and tail
    • © Mike Wisnicki, Grand Forks, British Columbia, Canada, April 2009
  • Female

    Cassin's Finch

    Female
    • Long wings and tail
    • Very crisp streaking on underparts
    • Streaked undertail
    • Thin white eye-ring
    • © Keith Spangle, March 2011

Similar Species

  • Adult Male

    Purple Finch

    Adult Male
    • Bright rosy pink not restricted to crown
    • White on flanks and undertail
    • Shorter, stubbier bill
    • © Ken Phenicie, Pescadero, California, January 2012
  • Female/Juvenile

    Purple Finch

    Female/Juvenile
    • Heavier, blurrier streaking
    • No eye-ring
    • Shorter bill
    • © Kelly Azar, Pennsylvania, October 2010
  • Adult Male

    House Finch

    Adult Male
    • Paler red on head and breast
    • Faint, blurry streaks on flanks
    • Short, stubby bill
    • © Carlos Escamilla, Callaghan, Texas, November 2010
  • Female

    House Finch

    Female
    • Dull, gray-brown head with no contrasting pattern
    • Blurry grayish streaks below
    • Short, stubby bill
    • © Bill Thompson, Hadley, Massachusetts, December 2011
  • Adult

    Pine Siskin

    Adult
    • Smaller and daintier than Cassin's Finch
    • Thinner, sharply-pointed bill
    • Yellow on wings and tail
    • © Jeff Loomis, Pennsylvania, February 2009

Similar Species

Compared with House Finches and Purple Finches, Cassin’s Finches are the most range-restricted, occurring mainly in mountains of the interior West. Purple Finches have more distinctly contrasting heads and stubbier bills than Cassin’s Finches; they also show white undertail coverts and flanks instead of the crisply streaked underparts of Cassin’s Finches. Male House Finches show paler red on the head, breast, and rump, and all House Finches have broad and blurry streaks on the underparts instead of the Cassin’s Finches crisp streaking. Female and immature House Finches have dull, mealy gray-brown heads without much of a contrasting pattern like a Cassin’s Finch. Pine Siskins are smaller and more active than Cassin’s Finches; they have thinner, pointed bills and a yellow stripe in their wings.

Backyard Tips

Cassin’s Finches may come to sunflower seed feeders, especially during winter. They also eat visit many kinds of fruiting shrubs, including cotoneaster, mulberries, firethorn, grape, and apple.

Find This Bird

Head to mountain forests of evergreens and quaking aspen to look for Cassin’s Finches. Listen for their fast, rolling songs and be alert for flocks of small seed-eating birds—Cassin’s Finches often forage in the company of crossbills, grosbeaks, or other finches, or visit mineral deposits to eat salt.