Purple Finch Haemorhous purpureus Scientific name definitions

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

Movements and Migration

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Migration Overview

In e. North America, migration characterized by biennial incursions into s. U.S. as far as n.-central Florida, s. Alabama, s. Mississippi, s. Louisiana, s. Arkansas, and se. Texas. Variability in extent of migration attributed to variation in conifer cone crops in northern portion of wintering range (Blake Blake 1962b, Blake 1967, Kennard 1977). Evidence of biennial increases in recapture rates and staggered peaks in Christmas Bird Counts between northern and southern counts indicate that fluctuations in local populations are the result of changing migration patterns rather than marked fluctuations in overall population size. In the w. U.S., migration tends to be altitudinal and migration patterns do not appear to be associated with variation in cone crops of coniferous trees (Wheelock 1910, Salt 1952, Bradley and Bradley 1983, Widrlechner and Dragula 1984). Canadian populations breeding west of the Rocky Mtns. migrate to California and Arizona, whereas populations breeding east of the Rocky Mtns. migrate to the e. U.S. (Salt 1952).

Timing and Routes of Migration

Fall migration generally between late Aug and Dec (Figure 3); immatures migrate earlier than adults (Blake 1962b, Murray 1966). Found up to 640 km offshore during fall migration (Scholander 1955). In nw. U.S., migration occurs between Dec and Jan. Spring migration generally between Feb and May; males migrate to breeding areas first (Magee 1924, Laskey 1958a, Blake 1962b, Yunick 1983c). Abundance at single sites during migration varies markedly between fall and spring, suggesting alternate migration routes, but routes not well documented (Blake 1962b). Birds banded in coastal N. Carolina only recovered east of Appalachian Mtns. (Blake 1967). Winter invasions to ne. U.S. appear to be from north-central breeding populations (Weaver 1940). Migrants to Arkansas largely from northeastern populations, although some percentage (7/27, 26%) comes from upper midwestern U.S. and central Canada (James and Neal 1986). Majority of winter visitors to S. Carolina (26/28, 93%) come from e. North America, with remainder from upper midwest (Belthoff et al. 1990). Recoveries of migrants to Kansas all from upper midwestern U.S. and central Canada (Kelley et al. 1981). Minimum travel rates average 11–13 km/d, maximum rate 32 km/d (Weaver 1940, Laskey 1974). Birds wintering in Arkansas usually travel >1,600 km, sometimes > 2,200 km (James and Neal 1986).

Migratory Behavior

Available information from Ferrell (Ferrell 1975). Exhibits Zugunruhe (migratory restlessness) during migration season. Shows a distinct northeasterly direction to restlessness during spring in w. Kentucky. Clear orientation direction exhibited under natural skies ranging from clear to partly cloudy (no information under overcast skies), but absent in a nearby planetarium with a natural pattern of stars, suggesting that celestial cues not involved in the compass sense. Orientation direction disrupted in the presence of bright outdoor lights.

Control and Physiology of Migration

No information on hormonal control. Body weight increases 21% during the spring migratory season, but the strongest migratory behavior exhibited by the lightest birds, suggesting that birds may move based on food cues, and depend on local food sources, rather than fat storage, during migration (Ferrell 1975).

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Purple Finch

Haemorhous purpureus


Estimates of relative abundance for every week of the year animated to show movement patterns. Relative abundance is the estimated average count of individuals detected by an eBirder during a 1 hour, 1 kilometer traveling checklist at the optimal time of day for each species.   Learn more about this data

Relative abundance
Week of the year

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