Learn About Birds

Which Red Finch is It?

The identification of these three finches of the Carpodacus genus can be extremely difficult. Each species is about the same size and shape, each is colored red with varying degrees of brown streaking, and each is common to feeder areas. What’s more, the ranges of these birds overlap quite a bit, primarily owing to the ubiquitous 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. Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Online Bird Guide to find species accounts that detail the range, habitat, and food preferences of each species.

House Finch

Slimmer body with short, stubby bill with curved culmen; longer tail faintly notched. Read more

Purple Finch

Plumper body with short, conical beak; shorter, deeply notched tail (Pacific birds have larger bills similar to Cassin’s).
Read more

Cassin’s Finch

Slightly larger, chunkier body with large head; shorter, deeply notched tail; slightly longer beak is heavy and conical with
nearly straight culmen. Read more

Male

Male House Finch

© Larry McQueen

Male Purple Finch

© Larry McQueen

Male Cassin's Finch

© Larry McQueen

-intensity of red color varies in males from yellow to orange to red; observer should rely on pattern of color
rather than hue;-“headband” of red with brown cap and brown cheek patch;-red chin, upper throat, and breast fades into conspicuously streaked sides;-brown wings and back, sometimes lightly washed with red, fades into red rump; brown tail
-deep raspberry color on most of head (including nape, face, and throat) is underlain by darker ear coverts, nape, and malar stripe, making the head appear contrasted at a distance; light stripe over eye; may have peaked crown;-raspberry carries onto hindneck (unlike Cassin’s and House Finch);-reddish color of throat and breast diffuses into a variably but usually faintly streaked lower breast and belly;-extensive red color on back in eastern birds, less red in Pacific birds -bright red crown varies in intensity but always contrasts sharply with pinkish reds found elsewhere on face and chin; also contrasts with brown on hindneck; overall, lacks strong face pattern of Purple Finch; may have peaked crown; whitish eye ring;-rosy-pink throat, sides of the neck, and upper breast quickly fade into finely streaked sides;-dark brown wings, scapulars, and back fade into pinkish rump; brown tail

Female

Female House Finch

© Larry McQueen

Female Purple Finch

© Larry McQueen

Female Cassin's Finch

© Larry McQueen

lacks the strong facial pattern of Purple Finch;dull white underparts have longer, less sharply defined streaks;undertail coverts have broad dark streaks strong face pattern: dark auricular patch separates a bold white “eyebrow’ and a white moustache;-underparts show heavy broad streaks;back and scapulars are brown and streaked;undertail coverts usually white with no streaks (usually diagnostic from Cassin’s) face shows a faint white “eyebrow”  and moustache stripes; pale but complete eyering sometimes noticeable.bright white underparts contrast with narrower, sharply defined streaksundertail coverts show well defined dark streaks against a white background

Online Bird Guide: House Finch, Purple Finch, Cassin’s Finch. ID tips, cool facts, natural history information, sound, photos, range maps, and more.

Illustrations by Larry McQueen, a world-renowned bird artist whose work is highly regarded for its ability to capture the true essence and beauty of birds.