Saturday, December 13, 2008

Purple Finches

Today I went birding at Eagle Creek Park with my pal Don Gorney. We were searching for waterfowl and White-winged Crossbills. While we didn't turn up any crossbills and the waterfowl pickings were slim, we did turn up two different flocks of Purple Finches and were able to watch them for quite a while.

For comparison, on top is a male House Finch
and a male Purple Finch on the bottom, captured
by my photowizard friend, John Howard.
"Purple" Finches are really more of a red raspberry color than a true purple. Male Purple Finches can be confused with male House Finches, but House Finches have a brighter red color with a tinge of orange. Also, the flanks and belly of a male House Finch is more heavily streaked with brown, while the Purple Finch has more raspberry color on the flanks. The back of a male Purple Finch has a raspberry wash, while the back of a House Finch does not. The Purple Finch is a bit chunkier in shape and a bit larger than the House Finch. The face of the male Purple Finch is more colorful and the ear patch is red, while the House Finch has a brownish ear patch. The beaks are slightly different. The culmen or upper beak of the House Finch is slightly curved while the beak of the Purple Finch is more conical and slightly larger. This feature is hard to detect unless the bird is close or you have really good binoculars.

Female House Finch on the top, female Purple Finch on the bottom. Photos from Flickr.
Females are a bit trickier. The one solid feature is the dark ear patch with the pale stripe above and below on the Purple Finch that can easily be seen from a distance. The Female Purple Finch has a distinctive brown malar stripe or moustache. Again, Purples are a bit chunkier. Beaks of females are similar to males. The female Purple Finch has a striped back, while the back of the House Finch is more uniform brown. The female Purple Finch has a breast that is more spotted in appearance than that of the House Finch which has thinner streaks.

I had commented that I don't see too many male Purple Finches. Don gave me a good explaination. Young male birds look a lot like females; they have little if any red coloration. If each pair has an average of four young, then that would produce one prominent male and five female-type birds. So roughly only 17 percent of the population is an obvious male.

The flocks of Purple Finch we observed were eating the long, thin paddle-like seeds of ash trees They were scarfing them down like teenage mutant ninja turtles devour pizza. These seeds must be pretty darn tasty. They were also enjoying the berries of dogwoods.

Tomorrow starts Christmas Bird Counts. Keep your eye out for this beautiful little bird!


Anonymous said...

Thank you! Finally, I think I will be able to know whether I'm observing a Purple Finch or a House Finch. This is the information I've been looking for.

Anonymous said...

Excellent photos for distinguishing between House and Purple Finches! Thank you! I have been a bird-watcher for over 50 years, and this is the first time I have been able to see this difference!