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The Tricksters: Part 2

Updated: Jul 4, 2021

What bird was that? Some birds are harder to tell apart than others. Take the Blue Jay and the American Crow. Two seemingly different birds but from the same family—Corvidae. Or the American Goldfinch and the White-winged Crossbill. Both look different but they are also from the same family—Fringillidae. But what about when you happen to live in North Carolina? Then you are in the range for both the Black-capped Chickadee and the Carolina Chickadee. How do you tell them apart when they look so similar? In this article I will go through the differences of the rest of the common tricksters. Down at the bottom of the article are the answers to which bird is which, in the same order given.

1. The White-winged Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, and the Mourning Dove

These doves look nearly the same. So how do you tell them apart? They live in nearly the same ranges; the Mourning Dove is the most common and its range overlaps with both the Eurasian Collared dove in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, and the White-winged Dove in Mexico. Here are some tips to figure out which dove is which.

  • The White-winged dove is similar to a Mourning Dove but a little chunkier, while the Eurasian Collared Dove is the largest and heaviest of all three. the Mourning Dove being the smallest.

  • The White-winged and Mourning Dove both have black spots on their necks while the Eurasian Collared Dove, as its name suggests, has a collar on the back of its neck. The spots are hard to see in the picture.

  • The White-winged Dove had white on the side of its wings that are visible when the wings are folded. The Eurasian Collared Dove and the Mourning Dove both have brown wings but the Mourning Dove has some black spots on its wings.

  • The Eurasian Collared and White-winged dove both have blunt tails, meaning that the tails do not come to a point, while the Mourning Dove has a tail that comes to a point.

Now that you have the tools see if you can identify which dove is which. Answers at the bottom of the page.

2. Cassin's Finch, House Finch, and Purple Finch

These finches are tricky to identify but thankfully live in mostly different ranges. The range of the House and Purple Finch overlap on the east coast, while the Purple and Cassin's overlaps on the west coast. Here are some tips for these lookalikes to help you out.

  • The Cassin's Finch has a large head with a peaked crown, a somewhat large chunky body, notched tail, and long, heavy bill with the upper mandible being straight. The House Finch has a rounded head and smooth crown, slim body, notched tail, and short bill with upper mandible being slightly curved. The Purple Finch has a large head and in some postures appears to have a peaked crown. a Purple Finch has a plump body with a short deeply notched tail and a short bill with the upper mandible being slightly curved.

  • The colors on the bird are what help set them apart. The House Finch has red to orange and even yellow color with the red being most intense on the forehead and chest. Brown wings and tail with some red washing and fading into a red rump. The Purple Finch has a deep reddish-purple color; the richest color being found on the head and chest, fading into a tan belly. Unlike the other two the Purple Finch carries red onto the back of its neck down towards the wings which also appear slightly purple. The Cassin's Finch have a bright red crown which contrasts greatly with the red-pink color found elsewhere on its face. The throat, sides of the neck, and breast are all pale red to pink and they fade into a tan belly, brown wings, and red rump.

Now use the tips to figure out which finch is which.

3. The Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak and the Female Purple Finch.

These last two are tricky and have nearly the same range. The Purple Finch lives in the has the largest range of the two, which spreads from the southern United States up to the northern United States and even into parts of Canada. The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks range spreads from the northern United States up into parts of Canada. Here are some tips now see of you can figure out who is who.

  • The Purple Finch female is a small, 4.5-6.5 inches, brown, streaked bird with a gray bill and white striped head. The Rose-breasted Grosbeak female is a large, 7-8 inches, brown streaked bird with a large pinkish bill. Note the bill coloration; that is a key difference along with the size. Size is not evident in the picture.

  • The Rose-breasted Grosbeak has a large pinkish bill about the same shape as a Northern Cardinal with a bold white eye stripe going from the base of the bill and extending to the back of the head. The Purple Finch has a gray bill with a slightly less defined white eye stripe extending from the nape, or the back of the neck, to right above the eye.

  • The Purple finch has brown streaks that go from the chest to the flanks and belly while the Rose-breasted Grosbeak has smaller streaks that look almost like a cartoon rain drop extending from the chest to the flanks fading into an almost white belly.

  • The last tip to identify which bird is which is the difference between wingbars. The wingbars are actually formed by coverts and secondaries, both types of feathers, overlapping so that certain colors look like they are one line. The wingbars on a Purple finch are not defined but are still somewhat visible while the Rose-breasted Grosbeak has two distinct white wingbars.

Now that you have the all the tools to identify the tricksters of the bird world see if you can test your knowledge out in the field.


  1. White-winged Dove, Mourning Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove

  2. House Finch, Purple Finch, Cassin's Finch

  3. Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Purple Finch

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