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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Purple Finch

Haemorhous purpureus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: FRINGILLIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Purple Finch Photo

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.

Bird Festivals
Be a Better Birder Tutorial 3

Keys to identification Help

Finches
Finches
Typical Voice
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Habitat

    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.

Range Map Help

Purple Finch Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male

    Purple Finch

    Adult male
    • Deep pink head with darker raspberry crown, eyeline, and malar (moustache)
    • Back brownish edged in pink
    • Moderately short, deeply notched tail
    • Short, heavy, conical bill
    • © Tom Smith, Bernardsville, New Jersey, December 2007
  • Female/ immature type

    Purple Finch

    Female/ immature type
    • Head brown with whitish stripes on face
    • Short, heavy, conical bill
    • Moderately short, deeply notched tail
    • © Tom Smith, Harding Township, New Jersey, December 2007
  • Adult male

    Purple Finch

    Adult male
    • Rich pinkish color on head and rump
    • Whitish underparts largely unstreaked
    • © Zen Birdfeeder, New York, April 2007
  • Adult male and female/ immature type

    Purple Finch

    Adult male and female/ immature type
    • Male on left; female/ immature type on right
    • Both sexes show general same facial pattern
    • Often found in flocks
    • Deeply notched tail
    • © Zen Birdfeeder, New York, September 2007
  • Adult male

    Purple Finch

    Adult male
    • Rich pinkish color on head and chest
    • © Brandon Green
  • Adult male

    Purple Finch

    Adult male
    • Often found at birdfeeders
    • © Heather Aubke/PFW, January 2008
  • Adult male and a female/immature

    Purple Finch

    Adult male and a female/immature
    • Male on right; female/ immature type on left
    • Females have crisp brown-on-white streaked underparts
    • In males, the purple-red often extends onto the back
    • Often found at birdfeeders
    • © Brandon Green/PFW, March 2008
  • Adult male

    Purple Finch

    Adult male
    • Upperparts and chest washed with pink
    • Unstreaked or only faintly streaked underparts
    • © Errol Taskin/PFW, February 2005
  • Adult male

    Purple Finch

    Adult male
    • Upperparts glowing pink with darker red areas on crown and face
    • Heavy, conical bill
    • Whitish underparts largely unstreaked
    • © Thomas Klak/PFW, December 2005

Similar Species

  • Adult male

    Cassin's Finch

    Adult male
    • Similar to adult male Purple Finch
    • Bright red crown contrasts with face
    • Pale brownish nape
    • Thin streaking on flanks
    • © Chris Wood, December 2004
  • Adult female

    Cassin's Finch

    Adult female
    • Similar to adult female Purple Finch
    • Face pattern not as bold, pale eyering
    • Streaking on breast and flanks very thin and crisp
    • © Keefee, New Mexico, May 2008
  • Adult female

    Rose-breasted Grosbeak

    Adult female
    • Similar to adult female Purple Finch
    • Very bold face pattern (bright white eyebrow and moustache)
    • Thin streaking on breast and flanks
    • White wingbars
    • Very thick pinkish or gray bill
    • Large size
    • © Laura Erickson, Ithaca, New York, May 2008
  • Adult male

    House Finch

    Adult male
    • Similar to adult male Purple Finch
    • Red forehead, throat, and breast
    • Brown streaks on pale flanks
    • Grayish nape, back, and wings
    • © Jeff Hurd
  • Adult female

    House Finch

    Adult female
    • Similar to adult female Purple Finch
    • Plain face (not bold face pattern), eyebrow indistinct
    • Blurry streaking on breast and flanks
    • © Maria Corcacas/PFW, January 2008
  • Adult male

    Pine Grosbeak

    Adult male
    • Similar to adult male Purple Finch
    • Plain pinkish red face
    • Flanks and belly plain gray
    • White wingbars
    • Large size
    • © Brenda Hudec, November 2006

Similar Species

Male Purple Finches are more evenly, and often less vividly, red than House Finches. Female Purple Finches are more strongly streaked and have a more distinct facial pattern than female House Finches. The Purple Finch's bill is slightly smaller and more pointed, and the tail is shorter and strongly notched. Cassin's Finches have longer, more pointed bills than Purple Finches. Male Cassin's are less red overall; females have less strongly marked faces, and the feathers under the tail have brown streaks.

Regional Differences

Purple Finches from the Pacific Coast are duller and sing a faster song than Eastern birds.

Backyard Tips

Purple Finches have large, seed-cracking beaks, and they seem to like black oil sunflower seeds best. A seed preference study determined that they choose thinner sunflower seeds over wider ones. Coniferous trees in your backyard may encourage Purple Finches to visit.

Find This Bird

Your backyard sunflower seed feeder is probably a great place to look for Purple Finches if you live within their winter range. This species moves very erratically from year to year, so if you don’t have them this year, there’s always a chance they’ll arrive next year.

Get Involved

Join Project FeederWatch and contribute your Purple Finch sightings this winter

The erratic movements of Purple Finches and other seed-eating birds present a scientific puzzle – one that requires lots of data all collected simultaneously over a huge area for us to begin to understand. One great way to help scientists get a handle on finch movements is to contribute your sightings to the Avian Knowledge Network by participating in eBird.

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