Common Name:Purple Finch
Photo: Sara Morris
Purple Finches are passerines in the
family Fringillidae which consists of the finches.
Finches are often described as small to medium-sized
birds with conical, sparrow-like bills and short notched
tails. Purple Finches are relatively large and stocky
finches with lengths of 12.4-15.4cm and weights of
18-32g. These birds have short, conical beaks and short,
deeply-notched tails. Adult males have bright red
coloration on the head and breast, with a reddish wash
over the back, wings, and flanks.
Unlike the similar
House Finch, the Purple Finch’s flanks are un-streaked
and the lower belly is usually white. Purple Finches are
sexually dichromatic, with females lacking any red
coloration. Instead, they are mostly brown, gray, and
white, with coarse streaking on a white belly, a bold
white “eyebrow”, and a solid dark ear patch. Immature
Purple Finches are virtually indistinguishable from
Purple Finches breed mainly in the cool or moist
coniferous forests of southern Canada and the northern United
States, although they have been known to also breed in mixed
deciduous and coniferous forest. They winter mainly in the eastern
United States, with a small range along the Pacific Coast of North
America. During the winter, Purple Finches can be found in a variety
of habitats, including fields, forest edges, and shrublands. During
both the breeding season and winter, Purple Finches feed primarily
on seeds, including those of many coniferous trees, elms, tulip,
poplars, and maples. They also regularly consume plant buds and
fruit, and they only occasionally eat insects.
Purple Finch males actively defend spatial
territories, frequently singing near their nest during the breeding
season. During this time, pairs of birds are solitary and both males
and females will demonstrate aggressive behavior towards other
individuals, often leaning toward their opponent with the neck
outstretched to show agitation. Such encounters sometimes end with
the Purple Finch pecking its opponent. During the winter, birds
often travel in flocks, consisting of either other Purple Finches or
a mix of species.
Monogamy appears to be the Purple Finch’s only mating
system. Male courtship displays consist of fluttering, fluffing out
feathers, and singing to females while holding a piece of nesting
material in their beak. If the female is receptive, the male will
fly up a foot off the ground, then droop his wings and point his
beak upwards. Mating may follow.
Females build most if not all of
the nest, constructing a cup made of twigs and roots far out on the
limb of a tree. The female lines the nest with grasses and any
animal hair she can collect and then lays a clutch of 2-7 eggs.
Typically, a single clutch is laid per breeding season, although
there are a few reports of second clutches being laid by some
females. Incubation lasts around 12-13 days, during which the female
does most of the incubation, with the male participating
occasionally. The young are altricial at hatching, with eyed closed,
little to no down, and incapable of coordinated movement. Both
parents participate in feeding the offspring by regurgitation. The
young birds fledge 13-16 days after hatching.
Purple Finches can be found year round in coniferous
or mixed forests during the breeding season, and a variety of
habitats during the winter. They can be found in virtually any
forest in Western New York especially in Allegany, Letchworth state
Parks, and Iroquois NWR.