Male. Note: dark red crown, streaked back, and fine streaks on flanks
  • Male
  • Male. Note: dark red crown, streaked back, and fine streaks on flanks
  • Female. Note: crispy streaking on back and sparse crisp streaks on breast.

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Cassin's Finch

Carpodacus cassinii
Members of this diverse group make up more than half of the bird species worldwide. Most are small. However their brains are relatively large and their learning abilities are greater than those of most other birds. Passerine birds are divided into two suborders, the suboscines and the oscines. Oscines are capable of more complex song, and are considered the true songbirds. In Washington, the tyrant flycatchers are the only suboscines; the remaining 27 families are oscines.
The finch family is made up of acrobatic seedeaters with conical bills and notched tails. Many are nomadic, wandering in winter in search of abundant seeds. Most finch species flock outside the breeding season, and many form flocks during the breeding season as well. Many finches have undulating flight patterns, and may give calls while in flight. They tend to inhabit forest patches and shrubby edges. Most finch species are sexually dimorphic and monogamous, and although the females alone generally incubate the eggs, both sexes help tend the young. Unlike many seed-eating birds that feed protein-rich insects to their young, many finches feed their young mostly seeds.
Common summer resident east, uncommon winter.
  • Species of Concern
  • Sound To Sage

General Description

The Cassin's Finch is closely related to the Purple Finch and the House Finch, and there are places in Washington where all three species can be found. Like most finches, the Cassin's Finch has a notched tail. The male Cassin's Finch typically has a brown back and wings, with pinkish over-wash and white belly. His brightest coloring is on his crown. This bright spot contrasts with the relatively pale areas surrounding it and is a good field mark. The female Cassin's Finch has short, crisp streaks on her breast. The breast streaks do not gather in a central spot as on many sparrows. The female may also exhibit a faint whitish eyebrow. Unlike Purple Finches, Cassin's Finches have fine streaks on their undertail coverts. Their bills are conical and slightly longer than those of Purple Finches. Males take two years to reach mature plumage, and one-year males look like females.


Cassin's Finches inhabit dry, open coniferous forests east of the Cascade crest. They are most common in mid-elevation Ponderosa pine forests but can also be found in Douglas fir, spruce, or fir forests.


Flocks form in late summer and early fall, and groups may visit bird feeders regularly in winter. Cassin's Finches can often be found in association with crossbills and other mountain birds. They forage in trees (especially when the ground is covered with snow), in weedy growth and shrubbery, and also on the ground. They can erect their crown feathers and do this more often than the closely related Purple Finch.


Cassin's Finches eat mostly seeds, buds, and berries. In summer they also eat insects, but feed their young mostly seeds.


Monogamous pairs typically form in late winter or early spring, and groups may breed semi-colonially. They usually nest in a large conifer, near the top of the crown, or well out on a lateral branch. The female builds the nest, which is a loose, open cup made of twigs, weeds, and rootlets, lined with fine grass, plant fibers, hair, and lichen. The female incubates 4 to 5 eggs for about 12 days. The male brings food to the female while she incubates, and both adults bring food to the chicks. The young leave the nest after about two weeks, and the parents and young may quickly leave the nesting area, but will remain in family groups. Pairs generally raise a single brood each season.

Migration Status

Cassin's Finches are short-distance migrants. During winter some drift southward, others descend into nearby lowlands, and others remain on the breeding range. Most Cassin's Finches leave Washington in winter, except when heavy Ponderosa pine seed crops provide enough food for them to stay. They may be somewhat nomadic during winter.

Conservation Status

A preference for open forests allows Cassin's Finches to take advantage of selectively logged forests and small-scale clear-cutting operations. As this habitat has been developed or converted to agriculture, however, House Finches have expanded and may outcompete Cassin's Finches.

When and Where to Find in Washington

Cassin's Finches can be found in eastern Washington from May to October. Small numbers remain in eastern Washington in winter. A few are reported on the west side, but identification difficulties make these reports uncertain. Cassin's Finches tend to be found at higher elevations than Purple Finches, but all three (Cassin's, Purple, and House Finch) can be seen in eastern Washington where agriculture, pine forests, and rivers all come together. Although Cassin's Finches are generally widespread in eastern Washington, their occurrence in any given location is highly variable from year to year.

Click here to visit this species' account and breeding-season distribution map in Sound to Sage, Seattle Audubon's on-line breeding bird atlas of Island, King, Kitsap, and Kittitas Counties.

Abundance Code DefinitionsAbundance

C=Common; F=Fairly Common; U=Uncommon; R=Rare; I=Irregular
Pacific Northwest Coast
Puget Trough
North Cascades RRRRRR
West Cascades UUUUUU
Canadian RockiesUUUUUUUUUUUU
Columbia PlateauRRRUUUUUURRR

Washington Range Map

North American Range Map

North America map legend

Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List
Yellow List

View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern