Cassin's Finch Pair

After spotting the Cassin’s Finch (Carpodacus cassinii) pair above a couple of weeks ago at Lassen Volcanic National Park, I thought I had a new lifer!  Now I’m not so sure. I may have seen these birds in my own yard and not even have known it!

There are subtle differences between the Cassin’s Finch and its close relative, the Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus) and more obvious differences between these two species and the other American Rosefinch, the ubiquitous House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus).

First, let’s look at the male House Finch. Note the broad, blurry dark streaks on the lower breast and flanks which are absent in the Purple Finch and pretty much so in the Cassin’s Finch.   Click on photos for full sized images.

House Finch Male

The female House Finch has a noticeably plain face, also with the blurry streaks on the breast and flanks.

House Finch Female

The Purple Finch is a little trickier. Let’s begin with the male again. First, note the lack of breast and flank streaking and the plump, less contoured body. This bird doesn’t have a neck like the House Finch does.

Purple Finch Male

The female does however have some distinguishing marks. She has a dark cheek patch with a bordering pale eyebrow. You can see a similar dark cheek pattern in the male above. You may also have noted that the bills of both the House Finch and Purple Finch are rather large and conical shaped, similar to a Grosbeak bill.

Purple Finch Female

Now let’s take a closer look at the Cassin’s Finch, and I apologize that they are not as close up as my backyard finch photos.

Cassin's Finch Pair

The first thing you might note on the female is they are more finely and crisply streaked on the back and belly than either the House or Purple Finch. More like a Pine Siskin. She also has a pale eye ring and both the male and female have a more pointy Siskinlike bill. Again, click on photos for full sized images.

Cassin's Finch Pair

Here you can see the male Cassin’s Finch is overall more trim and angular than the Purple Finch with the siskinlike bill.

Cassin's Finch Male

He also shows the more crisp, contrasting pattern on his back and his red crown patch contrasts abruptly with the brown of his nape.

Cassin's Finch Male

In this last photo you will notice that the male’s forehead and forecrown are conspicuously richer red than the rest of his head, and his breast is simply blushed with a pale red. That obvious and distinctive peaked red crown, I think, is his best field mark.

Cassin's Finch Male

As Pete Dunn puts it in his excellent field guide companion, “House Finch looks like it had wine thrown in its face; Purple Finch was dipped in it. On Cassin’s Finch, the patch of red on the peaked crown is conspicuosly brighter and richer (somewhat redpoll-like)1.”

Of course, if you have a good ear, you can tell them apart by their song. Here are the three American Rosefinches songs from House Finch, Purple Finch and Cassin’s Finch.

References: 1Dunn, Pete (2006), Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company

Written by Larry
Larry Jordan was introduced to birding after moving to northern California where he was overwhelmed by the local wildlife, forcing him to buy his first field guide just to be able to identify all the species visiting his yard. Building birdhouses and putting up feeders brought the avian fauna even closer and he was hooked. Larry wanted to share his passion for birds and conservation and hatched The Birder's Report in September of 2007. His recent focus is on bringing the Western Burrowing Owl back to life in California where he also monitors several bluebird trails. He is a BirdLife Species Champion and contributes to several other conservation efforts, being the webmaster for Wintu Audubon Society and the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Urban Bird Foundation. He is now co-founder of a movement to create a new revenue stream for our National Wildlife Refuges with a Wildlife Conservation Pass.