Cassin's finch

Among the many welcome sights each spring are Cassin’s finches. Here’s something I wrote about this species in 1983:

“Don’t be surprised if some afternoon very soon the snow fields on the mountains and buttes have that silvery-shiny spring-now look, because Cassin’s finches are returning. Not all over just yet, but back in certain areas, to a few feeders. Not yet in any large numbers, but enough to substantiate the claim that Cassin’s are back.

“The Cassin’s finch is a robust, good-sized finch, about 6 inches long. It has a conically shaped bill, is short, relatively stout, and obviously adapted to open seeds. Male Cassin’s finches are brightly rosy-red colored and closely resemble — just to make a birder’s life interesting — males of two other finches: the purple finch and the house finch. Females of all three species resemble each other; wouldn’t you know it. The male Cassin’s has a red crown patch contrasting with a brown back, a pale red breast, brown wings and tail and, often, a pale rose-red rump patch. The purple finch is a brighter raspberry red, especially on the breast, and the red extends to the back and even to the wings. Male house finch has a bright red breast and rump and an eye stripe.

“What makes it fun, of course, is that birds within any species vary in appearance, and as Ogden Nash put it (I think), “I always wish the birdies looked like the birdies in the bird book.” Just about every year purple finch are reported here — to make it all even more wondrous, the Cassin’s finch was called the Cassin’s purple finch not so long ago — and while I suspect the purple must have been here as an accidental, it’s not yet been confirmed here. It’s not on the Jackson Hole bird checklist at present, but it is designated a rare migrant in the Black Hills are, for instance. House finch is listed as accidental locally, represented only by a handful of birds.

“Now that the Cassin’s are back and they will become more common and even cheerfully abundant, it’s a choice time to break out the bird books and study up on three related, similar-in-appearance finches. To me, the female purple finch is the key, the easiest to discern, and I’d have a hard time believing a male finch to be a purple unless his lady has a very dark and heavy jaw-stripe.”

— Originally published in the March 2, 1983, edition of the Jackson Hole News.

Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature. Contact him at

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