- 4.7–6.3 in
- 8.7–10.2 in
- 0.6–1.1 oz
- About the same size as House Finch and House Sparrow
- Roselin pourpré (French)
- Gorrión purpúreo (Spanish)
- 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.
In summer, Purple Finches are primarily birds of moist, cool evergreen forests. You’ll also find them in mixed forests, along wooded streams, and in tree-lined suburbs. In winter they’re more widespread, using forests, shrubby areas, weedy fields, hedgerows, and backyards.
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.
- Clutch Size
- 2–7 eggs
- Number of Broods
- 1-2 broods
- Egg Length
- 0.7–0.9 in
- Egg Width
- 0.5–0.6 in
- Incubation Period
- 12–13 days
- Nestling Period
- 13–16 days
- Egg Description
- Pale greenish blue marked with brown and black.
- Condition at Hatching
- Naked, eyes closed, helpless.
Nests take 3-8 days to build, with the female doing most or all of the work. She makes the base from twigs, sticks, and roots, then lines the cup with fine grasses and animal hair. The finished nest is about 7 inches wide and 4 inches tall.
Look for Purple Finch nests far out on the limb of a coniferous tree or, particularly to the south of its breeding range, in deciduous trees such as oaks, maples, and cherries. Occasionally nests in shrubs or among vine tangles. Nests can be 2.5 feet up to 60 feet off the ground and are often built under an overhanging branch for shelter.
© René Corado / WFVZ
© René Corado / WFVZ
Aggressive Purple Finches show their agitation by leaning toward their opponent, neck stretched out and bill pointed at the other bird. This can intensify to standing upright, opening the beak or pointing it downward at opponent, and sometimes results in actual pecking attacks. During disputes at food sources and in flocks, females usually win out over males. Courting males sing softly while hopping and fluffing feathers in front of the female, often holding a twig or grass stem in the beak. If things go well, the next step is a short flight about one foot straight up, followed by drooping the wings and pointing his beak to the sky. Mating may follow.
Purple Finch populations decreased by 1.4 percent per year between 1966 and 2010, resulting in a cumulative decline of 46 percent, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 6.4 million with 92 percent spending some part of the year in the U.S., 66 percent in Canada, and 1 percent in Mexico. The rate a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2012 Watch List. Populations may suffer in some areas from competition with the recently arrived House Finch.
- Wootton, J. Timothy. 1996. Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus). In The Birds of North America, No. 208 (A. Poole, Ed.). The Birds of North America Online, Ithaca, New York.
- Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook. Simon & Schuster Inc., New York.
- Dunne, P. 2006. Pete Dunne’s essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
Partners in Flight. 2012. Species assessment database.
- USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2011. Longevity Records of North American Birds.
- USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2012. North American Breeding Bird Survey 1966–2010 analysis.
Short-distance migrant. Purple Finches are erratic migrants that follow cone crops. Typically they leave Canadian breeding grounds to winter widely across central and southeastern U.S, returning to specific regions roughly every other year. Birds that breed in northeastern U.S. and along the Pacific Coast may not migrate.
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 out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
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.
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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