Purple Finch

Carpodacus purpureus

Purple Finch - Male
Purple Finch - Male. Sandy Stewart

A colorful bird no matter how its plumage is described, the purple finch is often said to have raspberry, red, pink, purple, wine or rose tints to its feathers. While the male does have this coloration, female purple finches are less colorful but no less striking.

Common Name: Purple Finch

Scientific Name: Carpodacus purpureus

Scientific Family: Fringillidae

Appearance:

  • Bill: Conical, brown or gray-grown
  • Size: 6 inches long with 10-inch wingspan, stocky build, slight crest that is not always visible
  • Colors: Red, brown, white, pink, buff
  • Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have a bright red head, chest and rump with a strong rosy wash on the brown back and wings. The mantle is heavily streaked. The underparts are white with a rosy wash on the flanks and may show blurry brown streaks, though the degree of streaking varies and does not extend to the undertail coverts. A thick brown mask covers the eyes and cheeks. Females lack any bold red but have a strongly marked head with fine brown stripes on the crown and a thick whitish eye line. Their overall plumage is mottled or streaky brown, and females have sharp brown streaking on the white or buff underparts. Some females show a faint rosy wash on their upperparts. Both genders have two faint wing bars, black eyes and dark legs and feet.

    Juveniles look similar to adult females, but with paler legs and a paler bill.

    Foods: Seeds, fruit, insects (See: Granivorous)

    Habitat and Migration:

    Purple finches prefer open coniferous or mixed coniferous and deciduous forests, though they can also be found in forest edges, parks and suburban areas. Their summer range extends from the boreal region of Canada to northern Minnesota and Michigan's upper peninsula.

    In winter, the birds migrate to the central and southeastern United States, but are not found in southern Florida. Year-round populations stay between these two ranges from the Great Lakes to New England and Newfoundland, and a year-round population is also present along the Pacific Coast from Washington to southern California. In winter, these birds can be irruptive and may be seen well out of their expected range.

    Vocalizations:

    The purple finch has a rich, warbling song that lasts 2-3 seconds and varies in pitch and tempo. Males will sing from exposed perches during the breeding season as they advertise their territories and availability to mates. The typical call note is a short "tek" or "tik" call that may be repeated frequently, and other sounds include "burrrr" notes and whistles.

    Behavior:

    These birds prefer to be solitary or stay in pairs during the nesting season, but they can be gregarious in the winter and will gather in larger flocks, often mixing with other finches or pine siskins. While foraging, they often stay in trees or will hop on the ground searching for seeds and insects.

    Reproduction:

    These are monogamous birds that mate after the male successfully courts a female with a flapping dance.

    The female will build a shallow cup-shaped nest using twigs, roots, bark strips, weeds and other material, lining it with softer materials such as moss, hair and grass. The nest is typically positioned in a tree 5-40 feet above the ground.

    The female bird will incubate the brood for 13-14 days, and the altricial young are fed by both parents for an additional 13-14 days. There are 3-5 oval-shaped, pale green or bluish eggs with dark markings per brood, and purple finches may raise 1-2 broods per year.

    Attracting Purple Finches:

    These finches readily visit backyards offering black oil sunflower seeds or millet in hopper or open tray feeders, and they can be quite bold and tame once they become accustomed to the food source. Planting ash and elm trees can also provide a natural seed source to attract purple finches.

    Conservation:

    These finches are not considered threatened or endangered, but they can be victims of habitat loss. This particularly prominent in their boreal breeding range, where logging operations can dramatically reduce available nesting habitat. They may also lose nesting sites to more aggressive house sparrows, and eastern populations are showing mild declines.

    Similar Birds:

    • House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
    • Cassin's Finch (Carpodacus cassinii)
    • Common Rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus)
    • Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator)

    Photo – Purple Finch – Male © Sandy Stewart
    Photo – Purple Finch – Female © Nick Saunders