Finches are small birds with stout beaks adapted for eating seeds. Finches are sometimes confused with sparrows. The two groups do have many similarities, but in general finches are smaller, are more likely to be found in flocks, and have brighter coloring, particularly in males, than sparrows.


Finches - Order Passeriformes, Family Fringillidae

A small bird with red crown and reddish-brown feathers.
Cassin's Finch (male)

© 2012 Ron Wolf

Cassin's Finch
Cinclus mexicanus

Habitat: forest, subalpine
Seasons: uncommon spring-fall
Size: length 6.25 in (15.8 cm), wingspan 11.5 in (29 cm)
Cassin's Finch Calls

Cassin's finch males have a bright red crown and rosy pink throat, breast, and back, with distint dark streaks on the back. Females are pale grey-brown, with crisp black streaks and back and rump, and sparse streaking on the flanks/belly. Both have pale eye rings and long primary feathers. Similar in appearance to purple and house finches, but Cassin's finch prefers mountain forests and has a distict, higher call.

A brown bird with a grey head pecks at rocky ground.
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch

NPS Photo

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
Leucosticte tephrocotis

Habitat: subalpine, alpine
Seasons: common in summer, uncommon spring/fall
Size: length 6.25 in (15.8 cm), wingspan 13 in (33 cm)
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch Calls

Gray-crowned rosy finches have brown bodies and distinctive grey heads, with a black forehead and tints of pink on belly and wing coverts. They are slender with long wings and tail and short legs. This alpine bird can be found hopping on open ground foraging for food, sometimes in small flocks.

A yellow bird with a crossed beak on a wood step.
Red Crossbill (female)

Crow Vecchio Photo

Red Crossbill
Loxia curvirostra

Habitat: forest, subalpine
Seasons: occasional year-round
Size: length 6.25 in (15.8 cm), wingspan 11 in (28 cm)
Red Crossbill Calls

Male red crossbills are dull red with dark wings, while females are yellow. They have large heads and generally large bills that cross at the tips, allowing them to pry open cones for seeds. Crossbills have several types with varying bill size depending on the food they specilize in, with different ranges. Calls also differ between types. These types may reflect different species, but it is still being researched.

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In late August 2021, a migrating flock of red crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) visited the Longmire Meadow, attracted by its travertine mineral deposits created by volcanic springs. Many birds eat small stones or grit to help them digest tough vegetation in their gullets, but crossbills are particularly attracted to sources of salt or calcium, perhaps as a nutrient supplement. However, crossbills primarily feed on seeds, using their specialized bills that cross at the tips to pry open conifer cones.

A brown-striped small bird perches on a looped metal bar.
Pine Siskin

Crow Vecchio Photo

Pine Siskin
Carduelis pinus

Habitat: forest, subalpine
Seasons: common spring-fall, uncommon in winter
Size: length 5 in (12.7 cm), wingspan 9 in (22.8 cm)
Pine Siskin Calls

Pine siskins have short tails and long, pointed wings, with a slender bill. They are streaked brown overall. Males have a yellow wing-bar and wingstripe when flying, while coloring is paler on females. Pine siskins prefer open coniferous forests.

A yellow-bird (left) and a brighter yellow-black bird (right).
Evening Grosbeak female (left) and male (right).

Crow Vecchio Photos

Evening Grosbeak
Coccothraustes verpertinus

Habitat: forest & subalpine
Seasons: occasional spring-fall
Size: length 8 in (20.3 cm), wingspan 11 in (28 cm)
Evening Grosbeak Calls

Evening grosbeaks have large heads and bills, with short tails and pointed wings. Males have a bright yellow supercilium, or stripe above the eye, and yellow on the belly, flanks, and back. Head is black fading to brown-grey. Wings are black except for a notable white patch created by white secondary feathers. Females are more grey in color, with some yellow shading, and wings have a white oval at the base of the primary feathers. Evening grosbeaks travel in noisy flocks.


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Last updated: December 15, 2021

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