Cassin’s Finch, House Finch, and Purple Finch (en anglais)
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The identification of these three finches of the Carpodacus genus can be extremely difficult. Each species is about the same size and shape, and each is a common visitor to feeders within its respective range. The males each have varying shades of red or purple along with brown and white coloring while females are all brown and white. What’s more, the ranges of these birds overlap, primarily owing to the broad distribution of the House Finch. In certain areas of the West, it is possible to encounter all three species! Use the chart below to compare and contrast the features of each finch.
Female Field Marks (en anglais)
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|Faint white eyebrow and moustache stripe, though much less obvious than on the female Purple Finch. A pale but complete eye ring is sometimes noticeable.
|Lacks a strong facial pattern.
|Bold face pattern with a bright white eyebrow, a dark cheek patch, and a white stripe at the bottom of the cheek, giving the face a striped appearance.
|Bright white that contrasts with sharply defined streaks.
|Dull white with long, thin, smudgy streaks.
|Bright white with short, thick, smudgy streaks.
|Under the tail
|Well defined dark streaks against a white background.
|Broad, dark streaks.
|Usually white with no streaks (diagnostic if visible).
Male Field Marks (en anglais)
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|Large head that often appears to have a peaked crown.
Somewhat large, chunky body with short, deeply notched tail.
Slightly longer bill is heavy and conical with nearly straight culmen (top of the bill).
|Rounded head with smooth crown.
Slim body with somewhat long slightly notched tail.
Short, stubby bill with curved culmen (top of the bill).
|Fairly large head; in some postures appears to have a peaked crown.
Somewhat plump body with a short, deeply notched tail.
Short, conical bill. (Pacific birds have larger bills similar to Cassin’s.)
|Male Cassin’s Finches have a bright red crown that varies in intensity but always contrasts sharply with the pinkish-reds found elsewhere on face and chin. The crown is the brightest part of the bird in this species and also contrasts with the brown hindneck. Overall, Cassin’s Finches lack the strong facial pattern of Purple Finches. A narrow, whitish eye ring may be visible at close range. The throat, sides of the neck, and upper breast are rosy-pink, quickly fading into finely streaked sides. The dark brown wings and back fade into a pinkish rump.
|The intensity of red color varies in males from yellow to orange to red, although it is almost always less purple or rosy than in the other two species. The richest color is on the forehead and chest. (Learn more about House Finch coloring in the Color Variants section of our Unusual Birds page. A “headband” of red contrasts with the brown cap and brown cheek patch. The red chin, upper throat, and breast contrast with conspicuously streaked sides.
Brown wings and back, sometimes lightly washed with red, fade into the red rump. The tail is dull brown.
|The male Purple Finch shows a deep reddish-purple color on most of the head, back, and chest, which overlays the darker ear coverts, nape, and malar stripe (line extending backward from the lower base of the bill). This species looks as if someone took a streaky, brown-and-white bird and dipped it in raspberry jam. The richest color is throughout the head and chest. There is a lighter stripe over the eye. The raspberry color carries onto the hindneck (unlike Cassin’s and House). The reddish color of the throat and breast diffuses into a variable but usually faintly streaked lower breast and belly. There is extensive red color on the back in eastern birds, less red in Pacific birds.
Learn More (en anglais)
See “Separating Finches” (BirdScope, Spring 1997) for information about the geographic distribution, habitat, migratory patterns, and feeding habits of these three species. Visit the Lab’s All About Birds web site to find species accounts for House Finch, Purple Finch, and Cassin’s Finch that detail the range, habitat, and food preferences of each species.