Purple Finch

Carpodacus purpureus

The Purple Finch is the bird that Roger Tory Peterson famously described as a “sparrow dipped in raspberry juice.” For many of us, they’re irregular winter visitors to our feeders, although these chunky, big-beaked finches do breed in northern North America and the West Coast. Separating them from House Finches requires a careful look, but the reward is a delicately colored, cleaner version of that red finch. Look for them in forests, too, where you’re likely to hear their warbling song from the highest parts of the trees.

Cool Facts

Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
  • The Purple Finch uses its big beak and tongue to crush seeds and extract the nut. They do a similar trick to get at nectar without eating an entire flower, and also to get to a seed buried inside a fleshy fruit.
  • Purple Finches seem to be losing numbers in eastern North America as House Finches have moved in after being brought to New York City in the 1950s. One study of finch behavior found that Purple Finches lost out to House Finches more than 95% of the times the two birds encountered each other.
  • Into their rich warbling songs, Purple Finches sometimes add in the sounds of other species, including Barn Swallows, American Goldfinches, Eastern Towhees, and Brown-headed Cowbirds.
  • Birds that eat fruits are doing plants a favor by distributing their seeds later on. But finches eat the seeds themselves. Though they may not look the part, finches are predators. From a seed's point of view, these birds' hefty beaks mark the end of the line.
  • The oldest recorded Purple Finch lived to be 11 years 9 months old.

Description

Size & Shape

Among the small forest birds like chickadees, kinglets, and nuthatches, Purple Finches are large and chunky. Their powerful, conical beaks are larger than any sparrow’s. The tail seems short and is clearly notched at the tip.

Color Pattern

Male Purple Finches are delicate pink-red on the head and breast, mixing with brown on the back and cloudy white on the belly. Female Purple Finches have no red. They are coarsely streaked below, with strong facial markings including a whitish eyestripe and a dark line down the side of the throat.

Range Map
 
Taxonomic Hierarchy

Spotted_Sandpiper_AllAm

© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Fringillidae
     Subfamily: Carduelinae
Genus: Carpodacus
Species: Carpodacus purpureus
     Subspecies:
  • Carpodacus purpureus californicus
  • Carpodacus purpureus purpureus
Sound
Typical call note is a short, low tek.

Identification and Information
See Anatomy of a Bird
Body
  • Length Range: 14-16 cm (5.5-6.25 in)
  • Weight: 34 g (1.2 oz)
  • Size: Small (5 - 9 in)
  • Color Primary: Red, Brown, Purple or Violet
  • Underparts: White with red-brown breast.
  • Upperparts: Red-brown with brown streaks.
  • Back Pattern: Striped or streaked
  • Belly Pattern: Solid
  • Breast Pattern: Solid
 
Head
  • Bill Shape: Cone
  • Eye Color: Dark brown.
  • Head Pattern: Eyeline, Streaked, Malar or malar stripe
  • Crown Color: Red-brown with brown streaks.
  • Forehead Color: Red-brown
  • Nape Color: Red-brown with brown streaks.
  • Throat Color: Red-brown
  • Cere color: No Data
Flight
  • Flight Pattern: Swift bounding flight with rapid wing beats.
  • Wingspan Range: 23-27 cm (9.25-10.5 in)
  • Wing Shape: Rounded-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Squared Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Solid
  • Upper Tail: Dark Brown
  • Under Tail: Dark Brown
  • Leg Color: Black
Breeding
  • Breeding Location: Forests, coniferous, Forest edge, Mountains, Scrub vegetation areas
  • Breeding Type: Monogamous
  • Breeding Population: Fairly common
  • Egg Color: Light green blue with black and briwn markings
  • Number of Eggs: 3 - 5
  • Incubation Days: 13
  • Egg Incubator: Female
  • Nest Material: Twigs, weeds, rootlets, strips of bark, and string with moss and grass lining.
  • Migration: Northern birds migrate
  • Condition at Hatching: Naked, eyes closed, helpless.

Other Names

Similar Species

  • Roselin pourpré (French)
  • Gorrión purpúreo (Spanish)
  • House Finch
  • Cassin's Finch

Conservation Status

Purple Finch numbers are still high, but populations in the north and east of their range seem to be declining. This may be due to competition with the recently arrived House Finch.

Habitat

Sources used to Construct this Page:

Purple Finches breed mainly in coniferous forests or mixed deciduous and coniferous woods. During winter you can find them in a wider variety of habitats, including shrublands, old fields, forest edges, and backyards.
  • Wootton, J. Timothy. 1996. Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America
  • Dunne, P. 2006. Pete Dunne’s essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
  • Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook. Simon & Schuster Inc., New York.
  • Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Longevity Records
Food
Purple Finches eat mainly seeds of coniferous trees and elms, tulip poplars, maples, and others. They also eat soft buds, nectar (extracted by biting the bases off flowers), and many berries and fruit, including blackberries, honeysuckle, poison ivy, crabapples, juniper berries, cherries, and apricots. In winter you may see Purple Finches eating seeds of low plants like dandelions, ragweed, and cocklebur. They eat some insects, including aphids, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and beetles.
Behavior
Purple Finches readily come to feeders for black oil sunflower seeds. You’ll also see them in forests, where they can be noisy but hard to see as they forage high in trees. In winter they may descend to eat seeds from plants and stalks in weedy fields. Their flight is undulating.

Adult Male

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Adult Female

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Additional Photos & Video

Adult Sexes Similar

       
Videos
 
 
 
 

All photos © 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.

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