A close relative of the purple finch, Cassin's finch inhabits open, coniferous forests of the Mountain West. The male, which obtains his reddish coloration during his second breeding season, is best distinguished from the male purple finch by his well-demarcated, bright red cap, his narrower beak and a less intense rosy wash on his chest. Females and first year males are nearly indistinguishable from female purple finches but have a narrower bill and a less prominent white eye stripe.
Cassin's finches usually feed on the ground and are often seen along mountain roads; they consume a variety of seeds, nuts, fruit and buds and will also feed on insects during the warmer months. Their nest is placed on the outer branch of a conifer and 3-6 eggs are produced each year.
Primarily summer residents in the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies, Cassin's finches inhabit Colorado throughout the year and may be found from the ponderosa parklands of the upper foothills to the stunted forest of timberline; indeed, they are one of the more common species to be encountered at the alpine treeline, which occurs near 11,500 feet in our State. In winter, some Cassin's finches migrate to the mountains of the Desert Southwest and Mexico while others adhere to vertical migration, moving to lower elevations; during the colder months, variable numbers of these finches turn up at feeders along the Colorado Piedmont, usually scavenging fallen seed in the company of juncos, doves and other ground feeders.