Purple Finch Haemorhous purpureus Scientific name definitions

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

Diet and Foraging

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Main Foods Taken

Feeds mainly on seeds, buds, blossoms, nectar, fruit of trees; occasionally insects.

Microhabitats For Foraging

Usually feeds on outer portion of tree branches throughout the range of tree height (typically 0.5-30 m high) (JTW). Occasionally feeds on ground.

Food Capture And Consumption

Feeds on buds and flowers by crushing calyx at flower base to extract nectar, leaving upper flower undamaged (Guillion 1950). Flowers not ingested so not part of gut contents. Mean handling time of single sunflower (Helianthus annus) seeds is 83.1 s (Willson 1972); prefers thin to fat seeds, often drops fat seeds. Can handle longer seeds than many smaller finches. Beak can exert force of up to 1,000 g/cm2(Willson 1972). Often feeds on seeds, rather than pulp, of fruits (Blincoe 1923, Moffitt 1932, Bond 1947b). Feeds throughout day (Gobeil 1963). Can capture winged ants (Formicidae) by sallying from perches like flycatcher (Harlow 1971).


Major Food Items

Most frequently observed feeding on buds and seeds of elms (Ulmus spp.), tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera), maples (Acer spp.), sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), sycamores (Palatanus spp.), ash (Fraxinus spp.), redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), juniper (Juniperus communis), and mountain ash (Sorbus spp.; Gentry 1876, Smith 1915, Blincoe 1923, Martin et al. 1951). Other fruits, seeds, and buds known to be taken include coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), hackberries (Celtis spp.), crabapple (Pyrus coronaria), juneberry and serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.), silverleaf cotoneaster (Cotoneaster pannosa), firethorns (Pyracantha crenulata and P. coccinea), dogwoods (Cornus spp.), sumacs (Rhus spp.), buck bush (Symphoricarpos vulgaris), chickweed (Stellaria media), hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), hop-hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), barberry (Berberis spp.), wild radish (Raphanus sativus), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), ragweeds (Ambrosia spp.), honeysuckle berries (Lonicera sempervirens and L. piriclymenum), cocklebur (Xanthium spp.), beech (Fagus grandifolia), black birch (Betula lenta) seeds, grapes (Vitis spp.), poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), strawberries (Fragaria spp.), raspberries and blackberries (Rubus spp.), pigweed (Amaranthus hybridus), and goosefoot (Chenopodium album).

Insects consumed include aphids (Aphidae), caterpillars (Lepidoptera), cucumber beetles (Galarucinae), ants (Formicidae), grasshoppers (Oedipoda sulphurea and O. nebulosa), and beetles (Pangus caliginosu s, Dicaelus dilatatus, Cratonychus [= Elator] cinereus, C. [= Elator] pertnax; Gentry 1876, Smith 1915, Bond 1947b, Martin et al. 1951). Buds and flowers of trees in diet include aspen and poplar (Populus spp.), firs (Abies spp.), red maple, pear (Pyrus communis), apple (Malus pumila), and cherries and apricots (Prunus spp.; Gentry 1876, Blincoe 1923, Groskin 1938, Martin et al. 1951). Despite apparent link between crops of conifer cones and finch migratory patterns (Kennard 1977), only 1 report of Purple Finches feeding on spruce (Picea spp.) cones in early spring (Scheider and Crumb 1985). Further dietary investigation needed in northern portions of range, particularly during the breeding season. Reports suggest that fruit crops not severely affected by consumption of fruit-tree buds and flowers because of reduced intrabud competition (Groskin 1938).

Quantitative Analysis

No quantitative studies carried out.

Food Selection and Storage

Prefers thin sunflower seeds to fat ones in choice experiments (Willson 1972). No evidence of food storage.

Nutrition and Energetics

No analyses of nutritional content of food. Supplements diet with salt (Fraser 1985a). During winter, wild birds weighed in the early morning increased their body weight by 3.5 g (13.5%) when reweighed in afternoon (Bartleson and Jensen 1955). Starved birds lose a minimum of 0.15 g/h over course of a day (Blake 1956). In other Carpodacus species, carotenoid pigments in diet required for normal development of red plumage in males (Hill 1993c, Hahn 1996); probably true for Purple Finch also.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

Thermo-neutral zone of 25-40°C at high and low humidity, with basal metabolism of 4.5 ml O2consumed per gram per hour. Metabolism rises at lower temperatures, estimated to be 10 ml O2 g/h when temperature 10°C (Salt 1952).

Drinking, Pellet-Casting, and Defecation

Reported as an occasional water drinker, particularly at high temperatures (Salt 1952, Williams and Koenig 1980).

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