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Purple Finch Life History


Habitat ForestsIn 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.Back to top


Food SeedsPurple 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.Back to top


Nest Placement

Nest TreeLook 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.

Nest Description

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.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-7 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.7-0.9 in (1.8-2.3 cm)
Egg Width:0.5-0.6 in (1.3-1.6 cm)
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.
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Behavior Foliage GleanerAggressive 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. Back to top


Conservation Low ConcernPurple Finch populations decreased by almost 1.5% per year between 1966 and 2014, resulting in a cumulative decline of 52%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 6.4 million with 92% spending part of the year in the U.S., 66% in Canada, and 1% in Mexico. The species rates a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Purple Finch is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Populations may suffer in some areas from competition with the recently arrived House Finch.Back to top

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 out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

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Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye (1988). The Birder's Handbook. A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, Including All Species That Regularly Breed North of Mexico. Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. (2014). The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (2014b). Available from

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Wootton, J. Timothy. (1996). Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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