Here comes another feeder bird quiz: how do you tell a Purple Finch from a House Finch? Come on and take the challenge! You’ll feel good when you can make the call confidently. Let?s start with the easier females. Neither looks similar to their mates besides size, shape, and bill size. Both are streaky brown finches, but the female Purple Finch has a broad, obvious white eyebrow that is completely absent in the House Finch.
Males are a little trickier. The House Finch’s color is strawberry-red and concentrated to the head. Purple Finch male’s color is raspberry-red and the color washes farther down the body. The best clue may be breast and flank streaks: brown on the House and mottled purple on the Purple.
These beautiful birds nest in the vast conifer forests of Canada and throughout the northeastern U.S north of the Mason-Dixon line. The Canadian population winters in the southeast and across the Great Plains. During the winter months Purple Finches will utilize any habitat that provides a dependable food supply. An Aspen Song-filled feeder is likely to attract these finches as seeds form an important component of their diet. When available, other forms of vegetation are also consumed: buds, blossoms, and fruit.
Purple Finch numbers are declining in the East. We know that from data collected by birders who participate in the Breeding Bird Survey, a program sponsored by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service. The likely cause is competition with House Finches a species whose range has expanded greatly (see House Finch profile).
If you have Purple Finches visiting your backyard feeders, you have another good reason to keep those feeders filled with quality seeds. Providing dependable nutrition throughout the year will improve their ability to compete, reproduce, and survive. The bright, colorful appearance of a male Purple Finch against a snowy background is a sight we would all miss!
Wootton, J. Timothy. 1996. Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.