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Purple Finch Life History


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


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

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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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


Low Concern

Purple Finch populations decreased by 0.73% per year between 1966 and 2019, resulting in a cumulative decline of about 32%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 6.5 million and rates them 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Populations may suffer in some areas from competition with the recently arrived House Finch.

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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, NY, 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.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

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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