Purple Finch Haemorhous purpureus Scientific name definitions

J. Timothy Wootton
Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2020
Text last updated January 1, 1996

Demography and Populations

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Measures of Breeding Activity

Age Of First Breeding; Intervals Between Breeding

Individuals start breeding at age 1 yr, in some instances without acquiring adult plumage (Magee 1924, W. E. Cook pers. comm.). Within a breeding season, interval between sequential nests as little as 1–2 d from fledging to egg-laying (Grimm 1953a, NRCP data).


See Breeding: eggs, above.

Annual And Lifetime Reproductive Success

In nest without cowbirds 1.88 ± 1.87 SD young fledged per nest overall (n = 186), and 3.46 ± 0.98 SD young fledged from nests that produced at least 1 young (n = 101).

Number Of Broods Normally Reared Per Season

Generally 2 (Yunick 1983a).

Proportion Of Total Females That Rear At Least One Brood To Nest-Leaving

Not well studied. Since probability of fledging at least 1 brood is 101/186 (= 0.54), if 2 broods are attempted/year on average, the probability of raising at least 1 brood is 0.79, and the probability of raising at least 2 broods successfully is 0.29.

Life Span and Survivorship

Maximum longevity 14 yr: male approximately 2 yr old when banded recovered nearly 12 yr later (Kennard 1975). Average longevity estimated at 2 yr (Magee 1936a). Available estimates of survivorship, based on rates of recaptures of banded birds, vary widely. Because these estimates do not account for gaps in the capture record or emigration, they represent minimum values. Blake (Blake 1967) estimates annual survival of adults (winter to winter) for birds that winter in N. Carolina at 0.71. Magee (Magee 1926) estimates annual survival from cohorts of newly fledged juveniles in Michigan as: survival of newborns (from age 0 to 1) 0.087 ± 0.029 SD; age 1 survival 0.523 ± 0.081 SD; age 2 survival 0.345 ± 0.12 SD; age 3 survival 0.60. Magee (Magee 1936a) estimates adult survival as: age 1, 0.81; age 2, 0.22; age 3, 0.55; age 4, 0.50; age 5, 1.0; age 6, 0.33. More recent estimates from Tennessee (not broken down into age classes) range from 0.010 to 0.016, based on banding returns (Laskey 1974, Stedman 1989). Causes of differences need to be investigated.

Disease and Body Parasites


Sometimes exhibits tumors on legs and feet (cause unknown); tumors appear to last about 5 mo, and sometimes cause loss of toes (Michener and Michener 1936).

Body Parasites

Nestlings parasitized, sometimes killed, by larvae of the fly Protocalliphora azurea (Plath 1919b). For combined nests of Purple and House finches in Berkeley, CA, 67% of nests parasitized, with an average of 59 larvae present/parasitized nest (Plath 1919b). Nestlings also parasitized by the botfly Apaulina sp. (Hall 1948). Adults parasitized by the trematode Collyriculum faba (Farner and Morgan 1944), the bird louse Bruelia vulgata (Malcolmson 1960), and the tick Ixodes brunneus (Worth 1942, Blake 1964). Ixodes generally attack Purple Finches in the head region, particularly around the eyes, and may affect eyesight (Worth 1942, Blake 1964). Based on inspection of individual birds caught several months apart in N. Carolina and New Hampshire, ticks are a problem in N. Carolina but not New Hampshire (Blake 1964).

Causes of Mortality


Large population changes and dead birds noted in rural areas following severe winter weather, but accompanying increases in populations at suburban feeders suggest migration is the major determinant of local population changes (Graber and Graber 1979). Low but consistent levels of nestling mortality due to inclement weather. Of 202 nests with known outcomes, 5 (2.5%) failed completely because of weather-related events (Nest Record Card Program [NRCP] data).


See Behavior: predation. Of 202 nests with known outcomes in NRCP data, 62 (31%) lost to predation.

Competition With Other Species

Direct mortality caused by competition not reported, but competition with House Finch has influenced numbers and distribution (see Population Status, below).

Population Spatial Metrics

Initial Dispersal From Natal Site

No information.

Fidelity To Breeding Site And Winter Home Range

High rates of fidelity by adults to breeding areas in Michigan (56.8%; Magee Magee 1924, Magee 1926, Magee 1936a). High biannual winter site fidelity (15.4%, n = 1,262) recorded in N. Carolina by Blake (Blake 1962b, Blake 1967). Low winter site fidelity (13 returns/2,822 banded; 0.46%) but high breeding area fidelity (418 returns/1,770 banded; 23.6%) in Schenectady and Corinth, NY (Yunick Yunick 1983c, Yunick 1987). Juvenile fidelity (184/1,855, 9.9%) to breeding area lower than adults (Yunick 1983c). Birds more likely to be recaptured in the original place of banding (51/53; 96%) than in other areas (2/53; 4%; Blake 1967).

Dispersal From Breeding Site

No information on dispersal between breeding areas. Breeders in Sault Ste. Marie, MI, winter as far south as Sparta, TN (Magee 1924).

Home Range

No information.

Population Status


Breeding densities average 7.79 ± 5.05 SD pairs/40 ha (n = 19; Table 1) and range from 1.2 pairs/40 ha in a grassland and shrub habitat in Minnesota to 19.5 pairs/ha in a spruce plantation in Maine. Winter densities in Illinois reported as 8.8 birds/40 ha in bottomland forest, 2.4 birds/40 ha in upland forest, and 0.43 birds/40 ha in urban and suburban areas (Graber and Graber 1979).


Decline of 50% in breeding population in the ne. U.S. and s. Canada, 1966–1994 (Figure 4; Breeding Bird Survey [BBS] data, Hall 1984a (Wootton 1987, JTW). Populations in n. Canada stable between 1968 and 1989 but subsequently declined by 67% between 1989 and 1994 (Figure 4; BBS data, JTW). Decline strongly associated with invasion of House Finches in e. North America, not with changes in climatic or habitat variables, indicating likely interspecific competition (Wootton 1987, Shedd 1990). Populations stable in w. North America (Figure 4; BBS data, JTW). Historically, population declines noted with introduction of House Sparrows in Massachusetts (Brewster 1906). Densities much higher in western and northeastern coastal breeding populations than in other portions of the breeding range (BBS data).

Population Regulation

In Maine, rapid replacement of territorial birds after removal experiments suggests that populations are regulated by intraspecific interference (Hemsley and Cope 1951). Also, competition with House Finch (see trends, above).

Purple Finch
Figure 4. Breeding Bird Survey data for Purple Finch

Recent population trends of Purple Finches in 3 regions of the species’ breeding range: East (e. U.S. and se. Canada), North (central Canada), and West (sw. Canada and w. U.S.), based on data from the Breeding Bird Survey (JTW).

Recommended Citation

Wootton, J. T. (2020). Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.purfin.01