This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the Cassin’s finch.
Attentive hikers in the forests of Pagosa Country will likely encounter this small- to medium-sized finch, the Cassin’s finch. In the southwestern United States, they are found at elevations from 3,000 feet to 10,000 feet. In our area, they are year-round residents which drop to lower elevations in the winter. Here they may be found in greater numbers at our feeders enjoying sunflower seeds, which they easily break open with their stout, conical beaks.
The males can be distinguished from very similar-looking house finches by the lack of streaking on their breasts and a much redder crown. Females of both these finch species are similar in coloration and streaking patterns on their breasts, but the Cassin’s female body is more compact compared to the house finch female.
Cassin’s finches tend to feed on seeds and insects, with aspen buds making up a significant part of their diet in the spring. Insects, including the larvae of destructive Douglas-fir tussock moths, are a favored food item in the summer.
Female Cassin’s finches build a nest using various plant materials, animal hair, feathers and similar debris near the top of conifer trees. Breeding pairs may occupy nests within a few feet of one another once eggs are laid, but before incubation begins, the female is often the aggressor, chasing other males from the area.
The Cassin’s finch is considered at risk of extinction because of declining population numbers, particularly in the Northeastern U.S., for reasons that are not well understood. We are indeed fortunate to have this bird species in our area.
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