Mystery Bird: Fledgling Purple Finch, Carpodacus purpureus

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[Mystery bird] Fledgling Purple Finch, Carpodacus purpureus, photographed near a small Olympic Peninsula lake in Shelton, Washington State. [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]

Image: Lee Rentz, 19 February 2009.

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

Adult male Purple Finch, Carpodacus purpureus, photographed near a small Olympic Peninsula lake in Washington State.

Image: Lee Rentz, 19 February 2009.

Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:

Birders eventually learn to identify their birds from almost any angle; with experience and thought, there's usually no reason to wait for a mystery bird to assume classic field-guide profile.

It's harder in a photo, of course, because many of the clues birders use in the field aren't strictly speaking visual. Confronted in the field with a view like the one in this amazing image, we'd take in the bird's immediate surroundings, its size, its shape, its vocalizations; and we'd have a sense of what to look for. This is a lot tougher, but let's give it a try.

The most conspicuous feature of this image is the bird's bill, so we may as well work from there. Simply put, it's huge, with a great square lower mandible and a noticeably curved upper. That said, I don't think it's massive enough for a Lark Bunting or a Pheucticus grosbeak; but surely it's too large for any of the "normal" sparrows or smaller Passerina buntings, and I don't think that any age and sex class of Blue Grosbeak could be this cold and this streaked. Bobolink and Brown-headed Cowbird can be eliminated on similar grounds.

That leaves us with the Carpodacus finches. House Finch and Common Rosefinch would be much plainer on the head than this bird with its dark and white markings, and the ridge of the upper mandible on a Cassin's Finch should be straight and sharp rather than heavily curved.

To those of us who are familiar with the dark and heavily marked Purple Finches of the east, this is a puzzling bird. But remember that western Purple Finches are on average paler and smudgier; to gauge by the remains of the yellow gape flanges, this individual is also young, making its plumage characters even less pronounced.

Though I'm confident about the bird's age, it cannot be sexed: Purple Finches, like Cassin's Finches, are "two-year passerines," and males wear a brown "hen" plumage until the autumn of their second calendar year.

Review all mystery birds to date.

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OOH, you taunt us with these crazy shots!

I'm going to suggest a female house finch. Lack of throat stripe, and what seems to be a curve to the tip of the bill rules out Cassin's finch.

Fairly certain it is a female of some Carpodacus species.

I'm going to suggest this is a female Purple Finch. It appears to have the required paler supercilium contrasting with the darker crown and auriculars

Haha. "Warning: Finches in mirror may be closer than they appear!"

House Finch was the first thing I thought, but I'm fighting a cold and don't have the energy to go all obsessive on this one. I'm curious to find out what the answer is, though.