A medium-sized cardinal finch. Length 18 to 19 cm. Mass 40 to 50 grams. Sexually dichromatic throughout the year. Adult males have black on head (sometimes broken by a partial or complete eye-stripe of bright cinnamon); black wings and tail with sharply contrasting white spots; brilliant cinnamon on breast, rump, nape, and flanks; and a patch of lemon yellow on the belly. Females have brown head with buffy to white (occasionally lemon yellow) crown and eye-stripe, a pale chin, brown wings and tail with indistinct buffy spots and heavily streaked body plumage that is dull cinnamon to buff with variable amounts of yellow (Hill 1995).
For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.
Western Hemisphere Range
In Bozeman area normal spring migration is from May 27 to June 6 with no discernible movement in the fall.
Occupies diverse habitats. Cottonwood/willow groves and other riparian habitats in desert and dry grassland; openings in mature pine forest; aspen groves; deciduous growth especially in mountain valleys/canyons; pinyon-juniper woodlands; oak savanna; gardens; orchards. Relatively tolerant of human disturbance (Hill 1995).
Insects and spiders; cultivated fruit, wild fruit, weed seeds, and grains. During breeding season, gleans insects high in trees and in understory (Hill 1995).
Since it is relatively tolerant of human disturbance, it will breed in yards and gardens if adequate cover for nesting and feeding is available. Female does all the construction. Nests widely reported to be so thinly constructed that eggs can be seen through bottom. Nests are generally well concealed among foliage of branches. Clutch size is 2 to 5 eggs; subelliptical, pale greenish blue with much reddish brown spotting (Hill 1995). Statewide, nests from June to mid-July.