These three red-colored finches can lead to misidentification at your backyard bird feeder if you do not know what to look for. I hope to change that.
This is part of a series of articles addressing the identification of these three similar finches that frequent bird feeders. Sign up for our site if you want to learn to identify the Purple, House, and Cassin's Finches!
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If you want to learn about attracting finches to your backyard with a bird feeder, check out one of these articles:
House Finch and Cassin's Finch identification
In this article, I will focus on male House and Cassin's Finches; however, structural tips can also be helpful with female red finches. At the end of the article, guidance will be provided on the browner female finches.
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When comparing a House Finch and a Cassin's Finch, I like to key in on a few distinct areas: head, flank, breast, wing, and back. Birders can quickly separate these two similar species using the field marks of these main areas. Let's dig into these finch identifications!
House Finch field marks
Head: The House Finch has a fairly plain head, outside of the red coloration that covers most of it. While most of the head is red, the area behind the eye (the auriculars) is grayish, far grayer than in a Cassin's Finch. The pattern of the House Finch is never as distinct as the Cassin's Finch, though Cassin's Finch males have less pattern as the darker barbs wear off from fall to spring.
The bill of the House Finch is stubby and far more roundish in appearance than the Cassin's Finch.
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Wing: The wing of the House Finch has distinct white wingbars. This is quite the contrast from the male Cassin's Finch that has reddish to orangeish wingbars. This is a distinct and useful field mark, regardless of the Cassin's Finch wingbar color. House Finches rarely have wingbar color. Remember it!
Breast: The breast of the House Finch does not have the extensive color of the Cassin's Finch. Instead, the brown streaks encroach into the breast coloration of the House Finch.
Back: The back of the House Finch, like most of its body, lacks the extensive color on the back when compared to the Cassin's Finch. The patterning is dark, but not as dark or contrasting as the streaks on the back of the Cassin's Finch.
Overall Appearance: The House Finch appears smaller, less covered in color, smaller billed, grayer, and more streaked. Pay close attention to the head and wings.
Cassin's Finch field marks
Head: The head of the Cassin's Finch has a few noticeable differences from the House Finch. The crown and forecrown of the Cassin's Finch contrast greater from the nape. It makes the crown and forecrown of the Cassin's Finch appear redder than the House Finch, though this may be only due to the contrast.
The bill of the Cassin's Finch is straighter, larger, longer, and more pointed than the House Finch. However, individual variation can confuse birders when relying solely upon the bill. Combine this trait with those mentioned in this species profile.
Many backyard birders use the crest of the Cassin's Finch as an identification mark but do so with caution. Do not rely solely upon this field mark. It may show more frequently in Cassin's Finches, but an obvious crest, or lack thereof, does not guarantee a Cassin's Finch.
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Breast: The breast of the Cassin's Finch has far more coloration extending down to the lower breast than most House Finches. This color is also more of a purple or rosy color than the bright red of the House Finch. The breast of the Cassin's Finch typically has far less streaking than the House Finch.
Wing: The Cassin's Finch has colored wingbars and longer wings than the House Finch. The primary projection of the Cassin's Finch extends far beyond that seen on the House Finch. The primary projection is the extension of the primaries past the longest secondary when the wing is folded. This field mark is best used with experience.
Back: The nape and back of the Cassin's Finch have more distinct markations and more color saturation than in adult male House Finches. This can vary, but the dark centers have more contrast.
Overall Appearance: The Cassin's Finch is a larger, more covered in color, and point-billed pinkish-colored finch than the House Finch. The wing length and primary projection are greater than the House Finch. However, this can be difficult for those without experience using the field mark.
Female House Finch vs female Cassin's Finch
Using the image above and below, compare the shape and markations of the heads of the House and Casin's Finch. The bill of the House Finch is smaller and more curved than the female Cassin's Finch. Additionally, the facial pattern of the female House Finch is significantly more obvious. Compare the two facial patterns and bills in the image below.
Comparing the females of these two finch species in profile can offer further identification clues. Use the image below to compare the bill size, face pattern, wing length, and back pattern of perched birds in the field. Use the three arrows pointing to each bird to help find these three spots.
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The female House Finch bill is smaller, more curved, less pointy, and stubbier than the Cassin's Finch. The facial pattern is typically more obvious and distinct than the House Finch, though the photo below shows that Cassin's Finch face pattern can be less distinct.
The back pattern of the Cassin's Finch is often more distinct and contrasted than the back pattern of the House Finch. It gives the Cassin's Finch a more streaked back, though a bird with worn feathers may be difficult to notice the pattern of.
As mentioned above, one final identification clue that can be used for these two female finches involves the wings. Use it with caution if you are not familiar with it. The wings and primary projection of the Cassin's Finch appear longer than the House Finch. There can be exceptions, so use this with the other tips listed above.
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House Finch Range and Habitat
The House Finch was originally found in the western United States and southwestern British Columbia. However, a small population was released into Long Island, NY from a pet store in 1939. The eastern populations mostly originated from this introduced population.
House Finch Habitat
House Finch habitat is unique. The eastern populations that were introduced in the mid-1900s depend almost exclusively on developed areas with bird feeders. In the west, where populations are native, House Finches are often found in desert habitat, shrubland, and juniper forest.
Cassin's Finch Range and Habitat
The Cassin's Finch is found in the intermountain west. During winter and migration, it can wander further south and east into the desert southwest and Great Plains.
Cassin's Finch Habitat
Cassin's Finch are most often found in mature forests of lodgepole pine and ponderosa pine. Untouched mature forests and selectively logged forests with substantial mature trees can host dense populations of Cassin's Finch.
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Attract Cassin's Finches and House Finches to your yard!
Cassin's and House Finches are frequent backyard visitors. Creating a backyard habitat is the best first step any bird-lover can take to attract Purple, Cassin's, and House Finches. A bird feeder can also offer a supplemental food source to attract these red finches. While House Finches enjoy Nyjer seed and sunflower seed, Purple Finches prefer mostly sunflower seed. Offering a permanent water source is also a great addition to any backyard bird operation. All birds need water, and it may attract more than just seed-eating birds!
Final Thoughts on Cassin's Finch and House Finch ID
Separating these two western species can be tricky. Learn to quickly separate these two feeder finches by following the tips we provided here! Was this article helpful? Does something need more explanation? Let me know in the comments below!
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