Purple Finch

Haemorhous purpureus

  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 1, 1996
  • J. Timothy Wootton

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Purple Finch.
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 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:, 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:, Feb 18, 2013; photographer Roy Brown

The Purple Finch, a sexually dimorphic species, is moderately common across the northern United States, southern and central Canada, and the west coast of North America. The male, with its complex warbling song and raspberry red coloration, is one of the more conspicuous birds in its range. The female, by contrast, is an inconspicuous, drab, sparrow-like bird. Primarily an inhabitant of moist coniferous forests during the breeding season, this finch also breeds in mixed forest, in ornamental plantations, and in clearings associated with bogs. During the winter, it ranges throughout much of the eastern United States and southern Canada and migrates into lower-elevation areas in the west. It feeds almost exclusively on buds and seeds and is frequently observed at bird feeders.

The Purple Finch is noted for quasicyclical irruptions across portions of its winter range, thought to be associated with year to year variation in the production of northern conifer cones. Although widespread and regularly seen, this bird is one of the least-studied finches in North America because it is neither common enough to be easily studied nor rare enough to be threatened with extinction. Detailed studies of the Purple Finch have been restricted largely to patterns of its population dynamics (Kennard 1977, Wootton 1987), to population demography and structure derived from banding studies (Magee Magee 1926, Magee 1936a, Blake 1967, Yunick 1983a), and to intra- and interspecific aggression and flocking (Popp Popp 1987a, Popp 1989b).

Recommended Citation

Wootton, J. T. (1996). Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.