Cassin’s Finch

Haemorhous cassinii
Range Map

The Cassin’s Finch’s breeding habitat is in coniferous forests of mountains in western North America as far south as northern New Mexico and Arizona; also Southern California near Baja California. They nest in large conifers, and move to lower elevations in winter.

Most taxonomists regard the Cassin’s Finch as monotypic (i.e. no subspecies).

There is a strong resemblance among House Finches, Purple Finches, and Cassin’s Finches. One identifier I’ve found useful in setting the Cassin’s Finch apart from its cousins, is the conical shape of its bill. When seen in profile, the lines over the top and bottom of its bill are straighter than either the Purple or the House Finch. Literature sometimes mentions size difference, tail shape, and wing length as keys for identifying this trio, but such traits are often concealed or difficult to compare. However, I feel the bill shape is a more reliable key.

In May-2016 I was exploring the eastern Sierras, and I stopped at Mono Lake, which has provided many memorable bird encounters over the years. I’d not left the parking lot when I noticed a flurry of bird activity in a large nearby tree. The first species I identified were Pine Siskins as they hung, penduline-like, feeding on the blooms of the tree. While I collected siskin images, I recognised some of these grazers, though similar in appearance, were larger. It was only then I realized these were Cassin’s Finches. This tree hosted as many Cassin’s Finches as Pine Siskins. It was lovely!

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