The Centennial State is home to lush forests and mountain ranges so vast they seem straight out of a painting. Is it any surprise there are eighteen finches in Colorado you can spot on your next hike?
Finches are perching birds with a rather varied diet, often eating seeds, berries, insects, snails, and even rock salt. Colorado’s diverse landscape makes it easy for several species of finch to thrive…which means more bird-spotting opportunities for you!
I’ll help you spot both common and uncommon finches in Colorado with my list below. You’ll learn about their appearance, birdsong, and feeding habits to increase your chances of glimpsing them in the wild.
Black Rosy Finch
- Species Name: Leucosticte atrata
- Length: 14 cm to 16 cm
- Wingspan: 33 cm
- Weight: 22 grams to 32 grams
Bird conservation is incredibly important to support a healthy ecosystem – the black rosy finch’s habitats are facing the effects of climate change. As such, they’re a rare sight in Colorado.
Male black rosy finches are a sight to behold with dark gray feathers interspersed with rosy pink on their wings and lower stomach. They also have a light gray crown wrapped around their head.
Females look quite similar to males, while juvenile birds tend to lean toward a uniform brown.
Black rosy finches live life on the edge, preferring to traverse distant mountain ranges, cliffs, and tundras. However, they’ll sometimes visit snowy meadows and fields during the winter.
Like most finches, black rosy finches love to eat insects and seeds. However, they’ll sometimes munch on leaves.
Try attracting them with seeds at bird feeders.
Their birdsong is sweet and simple, characterized by repetitive chirps that occasionally hit a two-note structure.
This finch has a lot of visual overlap with a few other finches. Try not to get the black rosy finch confused with the brown-capped rosy finch or gray-crowned rosy finch, both of which I’ll talk about below!
Gray-Crowned Rosy Finch
- Species Name: Leucosticte tephrocotis
- Length: 14 cm to 21 cm
- Wingspan: 33 cm
- Weight: 22 grams to 60 grams
Birdwatchers with sharp eyes will be rewarded with this finch. Try and see if you can spot the gray-crowned rosy finch on your next trip – it’s a bird with subtle coloration similar to the black rosy finch.
These birds are cute and chunky, with males having a dark brown body speckled with light pink flecks. Their classic conical beak is yellow for most of the year but turns black during mating season.
Their most distinctive feature is their bright gray crown which wraps around their eyes and head. Adult females look similar to juveniles.
If you’re a fan of hiking through the frigid expanse, you’ll likely spot gray-crowned rosy finches on small islands or tundra during the warmer months. However, they prefer to visit urban areas for easy meals at bird feeders during the winter.
If you want to attract a few gray-crowned rosy finches to your backyard, stock up your feeders with mustard seeds and sunflower seeds.
This beautiful bird has quite a dynamic song, blending chirps with twitters and trills in a varied structure.
Male and female gray-crowned rosy finches will grow gular skin, which acts like a tiny pouch. Similar to what pelicans use to catch fish, they use this pouch to carry food to their chicks.
Brown-Capped Rosy Finch
- Species Name: Leucosticte australis
- Length: 14 cm to 16 cm
- Wingspan: 33 cm
- Weight: 23 grams to 33 grams
The last one in our list of visually similar finches is the brown-capped rosy finch, a rare sight in Colorado’s mountain ranges.
Male brown-capped rosy finches have dusty brown bodies with dark brown caps and a pop of pink along their stomach. You’ll also see a little pink along their wings, though they’re mostly brown or gray-brown.
Females and juveniles are much simpler in appearance – they’re a soft gray-brown all over.
While you’ll need to be extra patient to spot these birds in Colorado, they tend to show up in the Western part of the state. They prefer mountain ranges or elevated caves, so spotting these finches is a prime checkbox to put on your hiking or camping to-do list.
They also populate the Rocky Mountains, one of the largest mountain ranges in the world. Thirty of the highest peaks appear throughout Colorado!
Brown-capped rosy finches are all about seeds, so try attracting them to your bird feeders with sunflower or Nyjer seeds. They also like spiders, but unless you’re a particularly bold birdwatcher, you can leave those out of your birdfeed.
Their call is a series of bright, jaunty chirps and brief trills. They also have a rather sharp whistling note.
These finches don’t migrate, but instead drift down from their mountain habitats to lower elevations before returning to their caves.
- Species Name: Acanthis flammea
- Length: 12 cm to 14 cm
- Wingspan: 19 cm to 22 cm
- Weight: 11 grams to 20 grams
These striking finches are also less common in Colorado, though you couldn’t miss them if you tried.
You’ll easily spot the male common redpolls with their bold red head spots, red breasts, and brown and white streaked wings. Their tiny bills, round bodies, and short tails almost make them look like a sparrow.
Female common redpolls also boast a red head spot but with more subtle brown coloration and no red chest.
If you’re thinking of traveling to Colorado in late fall or early spring, you’ll likely see a few common redpolls flitting about trees. However, they also like vast fields and often forage on the ground.
These birds have a rather broad diet, munching on seeds, flower buds, and any vegetable scraps they can find. They’ll sometimes eat the buds of willow or birch trees.
Their diet also affects how they build their nests, which they’ll compose of plant matter as well as feathers and animal hair.
Their birdsong is immediately distinctive for its rapid-fire cheet-cheet-cheet, occasionally broken up by a long trill.
This detail might just win this list’s award for Cutest Fun Fact – these birds sometimes burrow in the snow to keep warm.
- Species Name: Haemorhous cassinii
- Length: 16 cm
- Wingspan: 25 cm to 27 cm
- Weight: 24 to 34 grams
Another bird with a penchant for red is Cassin’s finch, a less common sight in Colorado that still manages to be an easy finch to spot.
Male Cassin’s finches have gray-brown bodies with a red head, throat, and a dusting of red on their rump. They have white streaks along their wings and a longer bill than most finches.
Females and juveniles are light gray-brown with white streaks all over them.
These birds prefer spruce, pine, and fir trees, making their homes in Colorado forests all year long. While they usually prefer higher elevations in the mountains, they’ll sometimes drift down to lower valleys during the winter.
Anything vegetable or fruit-related will be in this bird’s diet. They’ll often forage for seeds, buds, and berries, though they’ll occasionally eat insects.
If you want to entice a few of these finches to your feeder, try a mixture of seeds and fruit. These birds love sunflower seeds, thistle seeds, and mulberries.
Cassin’s finches have an elegant song composed of rising and dipping warbles with long pauses in between.
Did you know male Cassin’s finches coloration will change depending on the season? In the summer they look similar to females.
- Species Name: Loxia curvirostra
- Length: 14 cm to 17 cm
- Wingspan: 25 cm to 27 cm
- Weight: 40 grams
If you don’t have the energy to travel throughout Colorado’s trails and mountain ranges, this finch’s nomadic lifestyle will help you out. They sometimes show up in urban areas due to a key part of their diet.
The male red crossbill lives up to his name with a characteristic ‘overbite’ – their bills cross over each other when closed. They have brick-red bodies with gray and white wings and black banding over the eyes.
Female red crossbills stray off the beaten path with olive-green bodies and gray-brown wings.
These birds appear in Colorado all year long and are very fond of conifer forests. However, you’ll sometimes find them along the roadside or at parks munching on rock salt.
Alongside a love of salt, red crossbills are big fans of conifer seeds. Their criss-crossed beaks are powerful enough to break open pinecones.
However, these birds also enjoy different nuts and fruits, so try attracting them to your bird feeder with millet, peanut kernels, and safflower. They also like suet in the winter.
Their song is delicate and lilting, warbling with highs and lows interspersed with occasional chirps. They’ll sometimes break up their warbles with repetitive cheeps.
Red crossbills are a complex finch – they’re considered one of the more difficult finches to categorize due to different flight patterns, food preferences, and birdcall. Scientists believe this variety is to ensure different species of finches don’t mate with each other.
- Species Name: Pinicola enucleator
- Length: 20 cm to 25 cm
- Width: 33 cm
- Weight: 57 grams
Another vivid finch for the birdwatching list is the pine grosbeak, earning its title for its love of pine forests.
Males have a brilliant appearance, boasting mostly red bodies with wisps of gray around their rumps and the tops of their wings. Their wing feathers are black with white streaks.
Female pine grosbeaks have mostly yellow bodies with similar gray coloration. They have a little more white on their wings.
Expect to see pine grosbeaks around western Colorado, particularly during the warmer months. They have complex migration patterns and prefer to move south for the winter.
Pine grosbeaks depend on a varied diet of fruits, seeds, and insects. Stock up on sunflower seeds if you want to invite a few to your backyard.
Their birdcall is sweet and simple, boasting rising and dipping notes of two or three chirps.
Pine grosbeaks are one of the largest finches around, boasting longer wings and a heavier mass than many others in its family.
- Species Name: Hesperiphona vespertina
- Length: 16 cm to 22 cm
- Width: 30 cm to 36 cm
- Weight: 38 grams to 86 grams
I love the bold patterns of the evening grosbeak, hearkening closer to pheasants than finches.
The male evening grosbeak has a large yellow bill, yellow head stripe, and mostly yellow body. However, keep an eye out for their black wings with white patches.
Females and juveniles have light gray bodies with only a hint of yellow around their necks.
The evening grosbeak appears in the state year-round. You’re most likely to spot this bird in western Colorado, particularly in more forested or higher altitude areas.
You name it, this beautiful bird will likely eat it. Evening grosbeaks love seeds, flower buds, insects, and fruit.
Outfit your feeder with a mixture of berries and seeds to invite them over.
Evening grosbeaks have a trilling, buzzing call that rises and dips repetitively.
Male and female evening grosbeaks have a delightful mating dance where they will bow to each other in turns.
- Species Name: Fringilla montifringilla
- Length: 16 cm
- Wingspan: 25 cm to 26 cm
- Weight: 23 grams to 29 grams
This finch can be a little tricky to spot due to their mottled coloration, making it easy for them to blend into their environment. They’re also an accidental species and not regularly seen in Colorado.
Male bramblings have mottled black and gray heads with vivid orange bodies and streaked wings. Females have a more subdued appearance with a white rump and a little orange on their heads.
These birds go everywhere and back again, popping up in farming fields, forests, and backyards. They show up in Colorado rarely, but regular visits may yield an encounter!
Bramblings prefer to eat insects during hotter seasons and seeds when it gets cold. They love beech seeds and may visit your feeder if you stock it with fresh birdseed.
Their call is light and dainty, mainly composed of chits and cheeps with pauses in between.
While you’re unlikely to see this in Colorado, bramblings enjoy flying around in massive flocks. A brambling flock of around five million birds was spotted in Slovenia!
- Species Name: Spinus lawrencei
- Length: 10 cm to 12 cm
- Wingspan: 21 cm
- Weight: 9 grams to 14 grams
If you’re raring for a challenge, Lawrence’s Goldfinch is an accidental species that’s rarely spotted in Colorado.
The male Lawerence’s Goldfinch is a distinctive bird with a mostly gray body and mottled yellow and black wings. Females look quite similar but are often lighter in color.
These finches usually show up further West, but may occasionally appear in Colorado in forests or weedy fields. They prefer to linger around a nearby water source.
While they occasionally forage on the ground for insects or dropped fruit, they prefer to eat seeds.
Lawrence’s Goldfish has one of the most dynamic calls on this list. They warble, twitter, and trill in rapid succession, with a few cheeps or whistles thrown in.
These birds are quite mobile and will often be seen hanging upside down on a branch to snatch a delicious seed.
- Species Name: Acanthis hornemanni
- Length: 12 cm to 14 cm
- Wingspan: 22 cm to 23 cm
- Weight: 11 grams to 20 grams
Curious about other rare finches? Hoary Redpolls are seen quite rarely in Colorado, but they’re easy to spot at a glance.
The male hoary redpoll has a gray and brown body with a bright red spot on its forehead. They also have a dusting of pink along their chest.
Females have softer coloration and boast the same red spot, while juveniles are completely gray.
A big reason these birds rarely show up in Colorado is because they prefer the Arctic. While they usually linger in evergreen forests and weedy fields, they sometimes visit towns.
Alder seeds and insects are their favorite foods to eat. You may be able to attract them with nyjer or sunflower seeds.
Their call is a rapid-fire succession of three-note cheep-cheep-cheep with occasional buzzy trills.
This finch is called an Arctic redpoll in Europe.
- Species Name: Loxia sinesciuris
- Length: 18 cm to 20 cm
- Wingspan: 8 cm to 10 cm
- Weight: 28 grams to 44 grams
You won’t easily get this finch mixed up thanks to its unique coloration and pattern.
Male Cassia Crossbills have mottled orange, red, and gray bodies with a crooked dark grey bill. Females skew to a mottled yellow-green with a yellow stomach, while juveniles look similar to adult females.
They much prefer to live in Idaho, but will occasionally drift to Colorado to look for more pine seeds.
Their crooked bill is perfect for cracking open pine cones. They sometimes eat insects when their usual pine trees are picked clean.
Their call is simple, composed of repetitive chit-chit-chits with sporadic pauses.
Cassia Crossbills steer clear of areas with heavy red squirrel activity to avoid competition for food availability.
- Species Name: Spinus psaltria
- Length: 9 cm to 11 cm
- Wingspan: 15 cm to 20 cm
- Weight: 8 grams to 11 grams
These charming little birds are more common than other finches on this list, so make sure to jot them down if you’re a beginner.
With a smaller size and bright yellow body, male lesser goldfinches appear similar to their domesticated cousins. They have a black crown, dark gray wings, and white wing spots.
Female lesser goldfinches are a softer yellow-olive.
While lesser goldfinches migrate for the winter, they’re found all throughout Colorado most of the year. They prefer large, open spaces such as fields, gardens, and national parks.
You’ll have no trouble attracting lesser goldfinches to your feeder with nyjer and sunflower seeds. They’re particularly fond of tube feeders as well as elderberry shrubs.
Their birdcall is both simple and serene, manifesting as a long, dropping note with long pauses in between.
While the mainstream image of a mother bird brings an insect to hungry chicks, mother lesser finches prefer to feed their young seeds.
- Species Name: Spinus tristis
- Length: 11 cm to 13 cm
- Wingspan: 19 cm to 22 cm
- Weight: 11 grams to 20 grams
This finch is instantly recognizable thanks to their wide range all throughout the United States.
Male American goldfinches are a bright, sunny yellow with black heads and mottled black and white wings. They have quaint orange beaks and orange-pink legs.
Female American goldfinches are subtle light browns with similar wing colors. You can see faint yellow along their head and throat.
American goldfinches are quite common in Eastern Colorado, though they’ll visit Western Colorado during the breeding season. Expect to see them just about everywhere, from forests to parks.
American goldfinches love a well-tended feeder, so stock up on nyjer and sunflower seeds.
Their song is as cute as their appearance, mainly singing short warbles mixed with sharp chirps.
American goldfinches have a unique flying pattern, often appearing as if they’re riding an ocean wave.
- Species Name: Haemorhous mexicanus
- Length: 13 cm to 14 cm
- Wingspan: 20 cm to 25 cm
- Weight: 16 grams to 27 grams
I’m a firm believer that a common bird species doesn’t automatically make it boring. House finches have charming coloration and a fascinating history!
Male house finches are stocky with light brown feathers and a splash of red around their face and chest. Female house finches are slimmer and a light gray-brown color.
House finches hang around Colorado all year and enjoy both natural and urban areas. Expect to see them in forests, parks, backyards, and gardens.
Their diverse diet makes it easy for them to adapt to any environment – they’ll eat fruit, seeds, and flower buds alike.
They’re rather fond of millet and sunflower, so keep your bird feeder regularly stocked. They like to travel in groups!
Their call is rather dynamic, mixing whistles and chirps in unpredictable patterns.
Some male house finches will have a yellow face and chest instead of red.
- Species Name: Spinus Pinus
- Length: 11 cm to 14 cm
- Wingspan: 18 cm to 22 cm
- Weight: 12 grams to 18 grams
This little finch is quite fond of Colorado’s plentiful forests, particularly its pine trees.
The male pine siskin is a more subtle finch and actually looks similar to the females. Both birds have light brown and white mottling all over their bodies.
The main difference you might be able to spot is a little yellow on the male pine siskins’ wings.
They normally visit Eastern Colorado during colder months, but some pine siskins linger all year long. They love pine forests and will sometimes venture beyond them to visit backyard feeders.
The classic nyjer and sunflower seed combo is a safe bet to attract pine siskins. However, they’re quite fond of suet in the winter.
Their distinctive birdcall is a chirp or two followed by a long, buzzing treeeee.
Pine siskins are hardy birds and are able to thrive in extremely cold temperatures. This is a big reason why they’re sometimes dubbed ‘winter finches’.
- Species Name: Loxia leucoptera
- Length: 15 cm to 17 cm
- Wingspan: 26 to 28 cm
- Weight: 24 grams to 26 grams
These finches are rather striking for both their unique beak shape and zesty coloration.
Male white-winged crossbills are dusty red with black wings and white wing spots. Their bills are black and their legs are also black.
Female white-winged crossbills are a completely different color, boasting yellow and brown coloration and similar wings.
These finches are rather rare in Colorado but tend to appear in deep coniferous forests or well-tended parks.
Spruce and tamarack seeds are their preferred food. They’ll occasionally entertain other seeds, but not often.
The white-winged crossbill has a fascinating song, a repetitive cheep-cheep-cheep or twit-twit-twit mixed with buzzing trills.
Their crossed beak is so distinctive, that it’s part of their scientific name. ‘Loxia’ is a variation on the Greek word ‘loxos’, which means crosswise.
- Species Name: Haemorhous purpureus
- Length: 12 cm to 16 cm
- Wingspan: 22 cm to 26 cm
- Weight: 18 grams to 32 grams
This accidental species sometimes likes to vacation in Colorado, so jot them onto your list if you enjoy a birdwatching challenge.
Despite the name, the purple finch isn’t actually purple – males are blushing reds with brown backs and wings. However, in some lights, they may appear slightly reddish-purple.
Female purple finches are covered in brown and white streaks.
When these finches visit Colorado, it’s usually between late fall and early spring. They adore forests filled with plenty of seeds.
Purple finches eat fruits, insects, and tons of seeds. See if you can attract a few to your feeder with black oil sunflower seeds or millet.
Their call is soft and lilting, characterized by gentle warbles with long pauses in between. These notes are also repetitive.
Purple finches are sometimes confused with house finches due to males both having red heads.
Colorado is One of the Most Accessible Bird Watching Locations
Colorado is the kind of state where birdwatchers of any stripe can enjoy their hobby at their own pace. Whether you prefer to birdwatch on a hike or from your backyard, you’ll see plenty of finches.
Since a few of the species on this list are accidental or rare, I highly recommend getting creative with your hobby. Venture out with your camera during the winter to glimpse a gray-crowned rosy finch. Stock up on suet and black oil sunflower seeds to entice red crossbills or purple finches. Just make sure to bring a jacket, as Colorado can get pretty windy.