Tuesday, April 7, 2009


So much has been happening in the backyard in the past few days - the landscaping has finally begun - that I've fallen a bit behind in sharing all the great backyard bird news. The tidbit I want to share today has been a ray of sunshine into my yard several times now, in the form of an extremely rare yellow Cassin's finch.

Cassin's finches are most notably red, with a bold red cap and a lighter red or rose wash along their flanks. They are slightly larger than house finches, but they are often confused for them by unwary birders. I saw my first Cassin's finches just last year when they visited the yard in droves in early spring, and I was delighted to see them return a couple of weeks ago, albeit in small numbers (and still few at the moment). What surprised me most, however, was the yellow member of the flock.

House finches regularly appear in shades from red to yellow, including a bold orange, so I'm never surprised to find them in a rainbow of colors, but the yellow Cassin's variant is so rare that it isn't mentioned in most field guides. The only one - after hunting through several that I already own as well as at local bookstores - that gave even a minor mention of a yellow Cassin's finch is the complete Sibley Guide to Birds, which I've promptly ordered and am now eagerly awaiting its arrival.

This new visitor is most welcome, as are all backyard birds - even while my backyard is, at the moment, indisposed with landscaping projects half completed. There is a lesson here for all birders: no matter how well you may think you know a bird species, they can always surprise you, whether with unusual plumage, unique behavior, or just by bringing you a smile when you least expect it. As for me, Sunshine still makes me smile whenever he visits.

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