|Common Name:||Purple finch|
|Scientific Name:||Carpodacus purpureus|
|Life Span:||12 to 14 years|
|Size:||5 to 6 inches|
|Habitat:||Forests and suburban areas|
|Country of Origin:||Europe and America|
The is a beautiful and colorful bird. It has red, raspberry, purple, pink, wine, and rose tints to its plumage. While a male purple finch has this coloration, a female tends to be less colorful. This is a medium-sized bird that shares the same size as the husky sparrow. It is around 5-6 inches long with the wingspan of 9 to 10 inches. Also, the bird weighs 0.75-1.1 ounces.
While the purple finch is easier to distinguish due to its general size and stocky build, conical beak, and bright coloration, still a lot of people get confused when identifying this bird from other similar species. One needs to look at it closely so that he can identify the real purple finch.
One of the most accurate ways to identify and distinguish a purple finch from a house finch is the looks of its tail. A house finch comes with a longer tail, but the tail of a purple finch is somewhat shorter.
The purple finch often has a slight crest, especially when agitated, but its raised feathers do not stay visible at all times. The male bird’s head and chest are bright red while its wings and back are brown with rosy tints.
The bird looks great with its heavily streaked mantle. Its underparts are all white with that rosy tint on its flanks and might even have blurred brown streaks. However, the streaks may vary from one bird to another and doesn’t extend to its under tail coverts. A thick brown mask covers the bird’s cheeks and eyes.
The female purple finch does not have bold red coloring. Instead, it has a heavily marked head that has thin brown stripes on its crown and a dense white eye line.
The bird’s overall plumage is streaky or mottled brown. For the female, it has a bold brown streak on its buff or white underparts. Sometimes, it has a pale rosy wash on its upperparts.
Every purple finch, whether a male or female, has 2 pale wing bars, dark feet and legs, and black eyes. A young purple finch looks the same with the adult female, but it has a paler beak and paler legs instead.
As a sexually dimorphic bird, the purple finch is quite common all over the northern US, central, and south Canada, up to the western shore of North America. The male bird tends to be more conspicuous than the female, which is more of a drab, inconspicuous, and sparrow-like animal.
The maximum life expectancy for a purple finch is 14 years. History says a male purple finch was captured and banded when it was just 2 years old. That bird was recaptured after 12 years. Its average lifespan has been estimated at around 2 years. The causes of mortality involving the adult purple finches are still unknown since these birds are rarely kept as pets.
The purple finch shares several similarities with another bird species called the house finch. However, the later is thinner than the purple finch, and it comes with that un-notched tail. The male’s red is orange-red instead of raspberry-red and is brightest on its chest, rump, and forehead.
The female house finch is thinly streaked as it lacks a unique facial pattern. A house finch exists in Tennessee, whereas the purple finch occurs in winter.
Purple Finch vs. Other Birds
People find it hard to differentiate the house finch from the purple finch as both species can appear so similar. The purple finch is a little bigger, but it has a straighter beak compared to its house finch cousin.
The house finch has more streaks on its underparts. Also, its plumage is strawberry-colored while it is raspberry-colored for a purple finch.
Another bird species that is somewhat similar to a purple finch is the Cassin’s Finch. The difference between these species is the Cassin’s finch comes with a highly distinct dark brown coloration while the crown of a purple finch is less well-defined and blurrier.
Likewise, the underpart of a Cassin’s finch looks paler with reduced red coloration compared to a purple finch.
Plumage and range differences delineate two different subspecies. The purple finch lives in the boreal woodlands of southern Canada. The male comes with longer and brighter-colored wings. The female has darker head markings and white underparts. The californicus of the Pacific coast has a less bright coloration and with a brownish tint on its sides and back. The female californicus is buffier underneath and has a less dark facial pattern and blurrier streaking on the back.
Voice and Songs
A purple finch has a rich and warbling song that will last for 2 to 3 seconds that will vary in both tempo and pitch. The males will sing this song from the exposed perches throughout the breeding period as they claim their territories and announce their availability for mating. Their typical call is a brief “tik” or “tek” that these birds will frequently repeat. Other sounds they make are whistles and “burr” notes.
The song of a purple finch is shorter than the song of a Cassin’s finch while it’s more strident and lower pitched compared to the song of a house finch.
Likewise, a purple finch can sing up to 3 different songs. In most cases, this bird sings a warbling song in early spring. It whistles while in flocks. Sometimes, a purple finch goes with other birds to sing the same song altogether, creating a chorus. The song varies from 6-23 notes. They sing fast with no 2 notes of a similar pitch.
There’s significant variation in notes when the birds repeat this song. This is a territorial sing that the purple finch will sing from April until July (during the breeding season). It consists of a sequence of quick notes that are all in just one pitch near its beginning, followed by a few warbling notes with high-pitched notes before the end.
The song of a purple finch doesn’t vary. The bird may repeat it several times, which results in a lengthy singing period. The least heard song is like the vireo singing, which you can hear in fall or spring migrations. It consists of 3 various phrases of 2 to 5 notes that the bird will sing alternatively with a brief pause between the phrases.
Habitat and Distribution
The purple finch breeds mainly in the cool, coniferous woodlands. In winter, this bird stays in those areas where it can easily find food. These areas are usually residential areas and woodlands. Also, this bird loves to visit the bird feeders.
When it comes to habitat, the purple finch usually prefers open or mixed deciduous and coniferous forests, but this bird may also exist in the parks, forest edges, or suburban areas. Its summer range often stretches from Canada’s boreal region to northern Minnesota, including the upper peninsula of Michigan. Year-round populations of this bird exist from the Great Lakes to Newfoundland and New England. A year-round population is present as well on the Pacific Coast from southern California to Washington.
In winter, the purple finch tends to be a habitat generalist and live in the areas with ample sources of food. Historically, this bird adjusted well to human development. It can also live in the gardens, urban parks, and roads that have ornamental trees.
Migration Status and Pattern
A purple finch is a typical migrant and even a winter resident in the US. The bird migrates going to its preferred winter habitat in mid-October and stay there until late April. It’s an irruptive species and tends to be more abundant in some wintering habitats than others.
While the purple finch has been seen on Road Mountain located in Tennessee. When the breeding period begins, some nesting birds fly to West Virginia. However, the populations of purple finches decrease range-wide.
Also, this bird migrates to southeastern and central United States in winter, excluding southern Florida. Since this bird tends to be irruptive, it is sometimes seen flocking outside of its expected range. These sudden migrations are so unpredictable, though.
The flocks of these birds undertake a drawn-out migration in the spring and fall. In the eastern US, the purple finch is a short-distance migrant, wintering in the south of its breeding range.
The western purple finch is so uncommon to see in Puget Sound in winter. However, groups of birds move to this area in spring. It undergoes nearly cyclical irruptions in some parts of their range for winter that can be associated with the conifer seed crops.
The introduction of this bird in the eastern US in the early 20th century seems to cause a drop in the population of purple finches in this region.
The house finches replaced the purples in most developed regions of Washington. Likewise, the populations of purple finches dropped year after year in the state since 1980.
The purple finches were quite abundant in Seattle but were rarely recorded in the Christmas Bird Count held in the past few years.
The purple finch is a migratory bird that can travel in several miles for its survival from season to season. It likes to be alone, so it looks for a companion only when the nesting period comes in. This bird may become sociable in winter and gather with other birds, forming a bigger flock. The flock may consist of Cassin’s and house finches and pine siskins.
Moreover, this bird can also become aggressive for some time. When it does, the animal will show this behavior by leaning towards its opponent while stretching its neck and pointing its beak to the bird.
The bird may even become more aggressive when it stands upright. The animal may open its bill or point it downward at the opponent. Occasionally, it leads to pecking attacks. If the dispute is about food or flocks, the female purple finches often win over the males.
Males that are looking for mating partners will court the females by singing softly while jumping and fluffing their feathers. They will do these things in front of the females while holding a branch or stem of grass in their beaks.
When things are okay, the next thing to happen will be a brief flight that is around 1-foot straight upward. It will be followed by drooping those wings and pointing their beaks upward. If the females react positively, mating comes next.
Perception and Communication
The purple finch has been known for its musical and bright warble that every male will sing in late winter and early spring. Experts simply named it as the warbling song that includes more than 20 undulating notes in different pitches.
This bird may sing while gathering in flocks. Also, a male purple finch will sing another song to protect its territory. This song consists of several notes of one pitch from the start and a high-pitched note in the end. The male purple finch also sings one more song that includes several phrases in pairs
The female can also sing a short song that goes like finch-like but different from the songs sung by a male. The female will sing while it sits on the nesting spot, but the reason behind this is still unknown.
All birds of both genders will use the sharp tick call once they are in flight. This call will likely help them stay in contact with one another.
Aside from singing, the purple finch uses somebody postures for communication, especially in aggressive scenarios. These aggressive postures are bill display, high head forward, and low head forward.
The low head forward is for the low-intensity scenarios. In this position, the bird holds its body horizontally while stretching out its neck and pointing its beak to its opponent.
The high head forward is the posture where the bird is holding its body upright. In this pose, the bird will also keep its beak open. In intense encounters, beak displays are involved where the bird is holding its body at the maximum height and pointing its beaks downward to the opponent.
These aggressive postures might be species-specific, too. For instance, the low head forward is more common among the American golf finches. According to studies, the purple finch uses this posture just to discourage its opponent without causing harm to the other bird.
Like other birds, the purple finch perceives the surroundings by using tactile, auditory, chemical, and visual stimuli.
The purple finch is not an exemption in terms of predation. This bird is often attacked by predators during the reproductive period. These animals visit the nesting spot of this bird to attack and eat the hatchlings and eggs. The possible predators of purple finch are the blue jays, Clark’s nutcrackers, scrub jays, red squirrels, and common grackles.
To prevent nest predation, the female purple finch will use the available nesting materials nearby to form a kind of nest that is less likely to be noticeable in the eyes of other animals. If the predators approach the nest, both parents will stay close to the eggs and hatchlings and either make calls or mob those animals.
Even the adult purple finch is prone to predation. Its possible predators are the blue jays, merlins, barn owls, sharp-shinned hawks, domestic dogs and cats, and American kestrels.
Diet and Feeding
In the forest, the purple finch forages on and off the ground for seeds, buds, berries, weeds, and insects. Birdfeeders try to entice these birds by offering them black oil sunflower seeds. The purple finch is a seed lover as it can eat more seeds.
This bird is granivorous as it eats fruits, seeds, and insects. The purple finch often eats the seeds from coniferous elms and trees, maples, tulip poplars, and a lot more. Also, this bird eats nectar, soft buds, berries, and fruits like honeysuckle, blackberries, crabapples, poison ivy, cherries, juniper berries, and apricots.
In winter, you might see this bird in eating seeds of plants such as ragweed, dandelion, and cocklebur. This bird eats insects, such as caterpillars, aphids, beetles, and grasshoppers. While foraging, the animal often stays in trees and will jump on the soil looking for insects and seeds.
The purple finch is a monogamous species, though the length of the pair bond is still a mystery. A male bird performs an elaborate courtship display to entice a female. When a female is in its territory, the male purple finch will quickly flutter its wings while hopping.
The bird will thrust out its breast and raise its crest feathers. Also, the male bird cocks up its tail and sings a soft sing. During the courtship display, the male purple finch will often hold the nesting materials in its beak.
The male flies directly upward to around 30 centimeters tall. Upon landing, the bird will droop its wings and use its tail. This will support the bird as it raises its head and inclines its body backward. If the female is interested, she will respond by drooping or fluttering its wings. The female may also react by start finding a perfect nesting site.
The purple finch will breed once every year between April and August. When the pair forms, the pairs choose a perfect nesting site that is usually in the twigs of the conifer. Then, the female purple finch will complete most of the formation of the nest with occasional help from its mating partner. After searching for a perfect nesting site, the female will build a cup-shaped nest using roots, twigs, hair, grasses, and moss. The bird will take 3-8 days to finish the job and have the nest ready to use.
1-5 days after the nest has been prepared, the female purple finch will last 4-6 greenish-blue eggs that are speckled with black or brown. The female will develop a brood patch, so she is responsible for all the incubation responsibilities.
In this period, the male will provide food to the breeding female, whether she’s in the nest or not. Sooner, the hatchlings will come out of the shells 13 days after the incubation period. The young birds are expected to fledge in the next 13-16 days. The parents will take care of the hatchlings as they will feed their babies for as long as they need to do so. In the end, the hatchlings will also breed in the succeeding breeding period, even if they are below 1 year old.
The purple finch is born altricial. Thus, they require a major parental investment. The male helps the female in choosing a good nesting area. However, only the female purple finch will deal with constructing the nest. She will also deal with the incubation and brooding tasks on her own as she develops the brood patch on her own.
While the mother is busy incubating the eggs, the male will exert effort to feed her. When the eggs hatch, both the male and female purple finches will feed the babies through regurgitation. The hatchlings will be fed with seeds in most cases. Both parents will also deal with keeping the nest clean as they eliminate the fecal sacs from the hatchlings, which is crucial both for predation reduction and disease transmission prevention. The parents will continuously feed their babies even when they have fledged.
In the mating period, the male purple finch hops and sings to impress the female. He may able to hop high at around 6-12 inches from the ground. While he does, he will keep his chest puffed out while his tail cocked. Though he may bring some materials necessary for the nest site construction, still the entire job depends on the female.
The purple finch is a monogamous bird, so it looks for just one mating partner in every breeding season. The female gathers the best nesting materials like twigs and roots and lines them with softer materials like moss and hair. She will make the nest on the tree. The nest will be 5-40 feet away from the ground.
Eggs and Hatchlings
The female will spend up to 2 weeks in the nest to incubate the eggs and protect them from the predators. After this period, the oval-shaped eggs will hatch, showing the weak hatchlings. The babies are helpless and can’t protect themselves. So, the parents will take care of them – give them food and ensure their safety. The parents will be there for them for as long as they can. These birds might raise as much as 2 broods every year.
Typically, the female purple finch prefers to have its nesting spot on the limbs of coniferous trees, in deciduous trees like maple, oak, and cherry. It rarely nests in the vine tangles and shrubs. The nest is always at a far distance from the ground and constructed underneath the overhanging branch for shading.
Building a nest is quite difficult and time-consuming, especially if the nesting materials are not widely accessible. The female purple finch may take several days to a week to finish the job. She will make sure the nest is just right and spacious. Typically, the nest of a purple finch is 4 inches high and 7 inches wide.
Each clutch contains 2 to 7 eggs. Each egg will measure 0.7 to 0.9 inches long and 0.5 to 0.6 inches wide. The nestling time will take 13 to 16 days in some cases. The hatchlings will show up with no feathers and eyes closed.
The female purple finch will take care of everything during the nesting period. She will be in charge of the nest construction, and gathering of the necessary materials through the male may help him a bit in this matter. Also, the male bird will feed her and help him feed the young. When the incubation period begins, the female bird will not be able to leave the nest anytime she wants. It is where the male purple finch comes in. He will be there to give her food and ensure the nest is safe.
Purple Finch and Its Role in the Ecosystem
As a seed eater, this bird turns into a main seed dispenser or distributor for the plants or shrubs on which the animal feeds. This bird and the eggs, however, serve as food for various mammals and birds. The purple finch is sometimes a host to the brown-headed cowbird. Also, the eastern populations of purple finches are more prone to parasites compared to those from the west.
Scientists believe this bird is a poor host because the hatchlings are often fed with seeds, while the hatchlings of cowbirds prefer an insect-based diet. The nest of a purple finch is often a breeding spot for botflies and blowflies. The adult purple finch is often attacked by parasites like bird lice, trematodes, ticks, or nasal mites.
The Positive and Negative Economic Importance of the Purple Finch to Humans
This bird provides a minimal economic advantage to people. As said before, this bird feeds itself with seeds that helps in spreading the seeds of several plants. On the other hand, there are no possible dangers that a purple finch may cause to humans.
The purple finch is not considered endangered or threatened species. However, its population drops due to loss of habitat. This issue is more common in the boreal reproducing range of this bird, whereas logging operations may significantly reduce the existing nesting habitat. Also, the purple finch loses its nesting area when attacked by the aggressive and fierce house sparrows. The eastern populations, on the other hand, show minor decreases.
Tips for a Backyard Birder
The purple finch often visits those yards where people feed it with the seeds of black oil sunflower or millet in open tray or hopper feeders. The bird may become bold and sociable when it gets used to this source of food. Planting elm and ash trees may help one in providing a natural source of seed to entice this bird. Also, this animal will enjoy when provided with a warm birdbath for fresh and clean winter water within the northern portions of its range.
Constructing a Perfect Housing for a Purple Finch
A wild purple finch is okay with natural habitat. When well-tamed, you may entice it to live in an artificial structure such as a birdhouse that provides stable and abundant food and water supply.
This species of bird is easier to find in the forests of North America covering the north of British Colombia, central Manitoba, north of Alberta, south of Quebec, and Newfoundland, Canada, including the south and north of New Jersey, central Minnesota, and many more. If you live in the south of the US, then you may likely see this bird in winter.
The best birdhouse for a purple finch is the one crafted using wood. Use thick wood like pine, redwood, or cedar as they can withstand the harsh weather conditions and some other environmental elements. They are also more durable than other woods. However, be sure that the material you will be using it not a pressure-treated wood that contains harmful chemicals. Don’t apply paint to the birdhouse, especially in the interior, as it can be so toxic to the bird.
Feel free to construct the birdhouse in any style you prefer, provided that you pay attention to the preferences of your pet. Make sure the joints and gaps of the birdhouse are sealed properly to prevent the rain and wind from penetrating the structure.
There are 3 basic dimensions of a birdhouse ideal for the purple finch. The dimension of the entry hole is so important compared to the measurement of the box. It should be big and wide enough for the bird for easy access.
Aside from the nesting spot, you should also provide a feeder to your pet. A feeder can easily entice a purple finch to stay in your backyard, so get one ready at your home in winter. At this season, the bird struggles in finding a source of food, so a feeder will be a good addition.
The purple finch may stay in your backyard together with other birds like house finches, goldfinches, or pine siskins. They will feed on catkins or weed seeds provided by the feeder.
Availability – Where to Get a Purple Finch?
Since it’s rarely kept as a pet, you may likely get this species from a professional bird breeder. Still, you can ask for its availability in the credible pet stores online and offline.
How to Care for a Purple Finch?
Rarely kept as a pet, the purple finch is a better choice of a pet or experienced bird raisers out there. This bird is a migratory bird, so its behavior and habits differ a lot from the common captive-raised bird species like lovebirds and conures.
In taking care of a purple finch, you have to keep in mind the preferences of the bird in terms of food and shelter. It will be best if you can provide a kind of home that resembles the natural habitat, though the bird can also settle for a birdhouse with a stable supply of both water and food.
Likewise, you need to stick to its preferred food choices. You can feed it with seeds and fruits.
Fun Facts About the Purple Finch
- This bird was introduced in the eastern United States first. The house finch was introduced in 1940.
- The purple finch is a seed lover. However, it may eat fruits and insects. In winter, the berries become its favorite meal. It may also enjoy mealworms and peanuts.
- The nest of a purple finch is made of sticks, grass, roots, and animal hair.
- The male purple finch courts a female by hopping and singing. It also puffs out its chest and cocks its tail to impress the female and gets its permission to mate with her.
- A group of purple finches is known as a charm, trembling, or company.
- The purple finch is a beautiful and admirable songbird that sings up to 3 different songs.
How long does the purple finch grow?
The purple finch is a medium-sized bird. It is often 5 to 6 inches long.
Can a purple finch talk?
The purple finch is not a talking bird. Instead, the male bird sings as it gathers with other birds and when claiming and protecting its territory while the female sings during the nesting period.
What does the purple finch love to eat?
The purple finch is a great seed eater. Sometimes, it eats fruits and even insects.
What is the scientific name of purple finch?
The scientific name of this bird is Carpodacus purpureus. In many cases, people mistakenly identify it as the Cassin’s finch or house finch.
Does the purple finch love being handled?
At first, the bird may be defensive. With proper handling and care, this bird will eventually turn into a sociable and calm pet.