Birds of America – All About The Purple Finch

The Purple Finch is a dear little bird and looks somewhat like a British Robin but it has a color scheme like no other.  It’s a ‘passerine’ or perching bird and is a member of the Finch family.  Read on to learn more about this cheeky character.

Purple Finch – Haemorhous purpureus, male perched on a branch, making eye contact. Background is blurred cedar trees.

Is it Purple?

No.  It’s actually a pretty shade of rose pink.  In French, it is called ‘Roselin Pourpre’.  The American naturalist, Roger Tory Peterson famously described the Purple Finch as “a sparrow dipped in raspberry juice”.  That is a cute and fairly accurate description.  The male has a raspberry colored head and chest, a dark patch on his face and a white unmarked lower belly.  The female bird is a dull brown, with brown and gray streaks on her back, sides and chest.  She has a pale stripe over her eyes, a dark line down the side of her throat and a dark patch over her ears.  She also has a white underbelly but it has streaking.  A juvenile Purple Finch looks just like a smaller adult female bird.  Purple Finches have a short, notched tail and a straight beak.

Where can I see one?

During the summer, they live around St. Louis and British Columbia.  In the winter time, they move to Texas, Kentucky, North and South Carolina and along the border between the US and Mexico.  Their breeding territories in the US are California, Minnesota and West Virginia.  In Canada they breed in British Columbia and Newfoundland.

They used to be abundant in the East but competition with House Sparrows and House Finches has made their numbers dwindle.  House Finches were introduced to New York in the 1950’s and they have taken over.  Purple Finches are intimidated by House Finches as shown by a study that discovered when the two met up, Purple Finches backed off 95% of the time.

What sort of habitat do they like?

Purple Finches love wooded areas, especially for breeding.  You may hear them warbling before you see them as they can be quite noisy when in a group – but they tend to stay high up in the trees, making them difficult to spot.  They are also happy in more open areas such as fields, parks and residential areas, especially in winter time, when they eat seeds from low-growing plants.

How can I encourage them to my garden?

If you live in an area with Purple Finches, it is relatively easy to attract them to your Bird Feeder.  They adore black oil sunflower seeds, so provide these in abundance.  They’re also partial to millet, berries, insects and thistle, so offering these will help too.

Unusual Facts About the Purple Finch

  • The oldest known Purple Finch lived for 11 years and 9 months.
  • Purple Finches are good mimics and can imitate Barn Swallows, American Goldfinches, Eastern Towhees and Brown-headed Cowbirds.
  • Although the Purple Finches beak is relatively chunky, it is a delicate tool.  The bird uses the strong beak to crush seeds and then extracts the nut with its tongue.  A Purple Finch is also able to take nectar without destroying or eating a flower and can extract a seed from inside a soft fruit without causing too much damage.
  • Fruit-eating birds help with propagation because the seed passes through them and is then dropped some distance away.  However, although the Purple Finch is a fruit eater, it doesn’t help with this because the seed is so crunched up by their beaks that it wouldn’t be able to grow.

Watch out for them

Keep an eye out in your yard for these cute little birds.  They make a cheerful splash of color in the garden and will bring you a lot of pleasure.

Bird Watch HQ

"If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands" - Douglas Adams

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