SPECIES

Purple Finch Haemorhous purpureus Scientific name definitions

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

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Adult male (Eastern)

Small finch with a conical seed-eating bill. Adult males have a raspberry red head, breast, and back.

Female/immature (Eastern)

Females are coarsely streaked below, with strong facial markings including a whitish eyebrow and a dark line down the side of the throat.

Adult male (Western)
Female/immature (Western)

Individuals from the western states tend to be more olive colored on the back with less well-defined streaks on the belly. Their head pattern is also less distinct.

Adult male (Eastern)

Small, somewhat stocky finch. Like other finches, it has a notched tail. Adult males have a raspberry red head, breast, and back.

Female/immature (Eastern)

Females/immatures are brown overall with crisp brown streaking on the breast and flanks. Also note white eyebrow.

Adult male (Eastern)
Habitat

In winter, found in a wider variety of habitats, including shrublands, old fields, forest edges, and backyards.

Habitat

Breeds mainly in evergreen forests or mixed woodlands.

Adult male Purple Finch, Ellijay, GA, 17 February.

In spring adult males at at their brightest. The buffy tipped fresh basic feathers are worn away to reveal the brighter pink coloration below. The following is a link to this photographer's website: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rbinv/., Feb 18, 2013; photographer Roy Brown

Adult male Purple Finch head and bill detail, Lorrimer Sanctuary, NJ, 30 October.

On males, note strong rosy red wash on the entire head, nape and back (more restricted in House Finch). Also note large bill with slightly curved culmen (strongly curved in House Finch, straight in Cassin's Finch). The following is a link to this photographer's website: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcbrian/., Oct 31, 2013; photographer Kevin Bolton

Female or immature male Purple Finch, Ellijay, GA, 17 February.

Female or immatures of the Eastern subspecies are more crisply marked below than western birds. The following is a link to this photographer's website: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rbinv/., Feb 18, 2013; photographer Roy Brown

Immature male Purple Finch, Newfoundland, 12 August.

Purple Finches undergo a complete prebasic molt in late summer. This bird is a second-year male, replacing the retained brownish plumage with new rosy red feathers. It will look completely adult male-like by fall. The following is a link to this photographer's website: http://www.flickr.com/photos/clbarret2003/., Aug 13, 2013; photographer Clyde Barrett

Juvenile Purple Finch, Loleta, CA, 16 August.

Juvenile Purple Finches have loosely textured feathers below, and streaked brown throats. This bird is of the Pacific subspecies californicus, which is marked with blurrier streaks below that the Eastern nominate subspecies. The following is a link to this photographer's website: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cameronrognan/., Aug 17, 2013; photographer Cameron Rognan

Adult male Purple Finch, upstate NY, February.

This bird is interesting in having a few retained brownish breast feathers. These may be left over from formative plumage, or simply molted later and outside the hormonal window for generating rosy red plumage.; photographer Marie Reed

Adult male Purple Finch, Chester Co., PA, November.

Male purple finches are overall rosy red, with the color extending on to the mantle and the wing coverts. They retain this plumage year-round, but the reddish color can be tinged brown in fall when new feathers are tipped darker. The following is a link to this photographer's website: http://www.flickr.com/photos/puttefin/., Nov 02, 2013; photographer Kelly Colgan Azar

Male and female or immature Purple Finches of the western subspecies, Skagit, WA, 7 October.

The western subspecies californicus is overall drabber, with poorly marked dingy underparts (females/immatures) compared with the nominate eastern birds .They also have a different song (see Sounds).

Female or immature Purple Finch of the western subspecies, Skagit, WA, 8 November.

Note blurry underpart streaking and less prominent head pattern than eastern birds. The californicus subspecies occurs primarily along the Pacific Coast north through Washington, overlapping with eastern birds somewhere in British Columbia.

Purple Finch nest, California

San Gabriel Canyon, Los Angeles Co. CA. 11 May 1940. Ruler is in cm.; photographer Rene Corado

Purple Finch clutch, California

Sonoma Co., CA. 19 Jun 1920. Ruler is in cm.; photographer Rene Corado


Macaulay Library Photos for Purple Finch

Top-rated photos submitted to the Macaulay Library via eBird. Note: Our content editors have not confirmed the species identification for these photos.

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