Monday, February 22, 2010

In the woods... Purple Finch

Purple FinchPurple Finch, Washington County, Oregon on 16 May 2008 by Greg Gillson.


There are three look-a-like finches in the Pacific NW: House Finch, Cassin's Finch, and Purple Finch. In general they are found in different habitats.

House Finches, as we previously discussed, are primarily found in residential settings, drier ranchlands in the Great Basin, and even coastal dune grass.

Cassin's Finches favor primarily the ponderosa pine forests east of the Cascades.

In the Pacific NW, Purple Finches prefer lower forests and wooded openings from the Cascade and Sierra-Nevada mountains westward to the coast and southward through California. On the east slope of the Cascades they are found above the ponderosa pine forest and below the true fir. East of the Cascades there are also some breeding in the Naches Velley of Yakima County, Washington, the Blue Mts of ne Oregon and the Klamath Basin. Purple Finches breed in sw British Columbia and across the forests of central B.C. They are rare winter transients in Idaho and the remainder of the eastern portions of the Great Basin desert in the Pacific NW.

They do occur in wooded lowlands, parks, and towns, as well as some riparian areas, but are generally out-competed by House Finches. The more trees in these areas, the more likely there will be Purple Finches.

They will eat some insects, but seeds are their main diet. Flower buds from fruit trees are popular, as are seeds of conifers and maples, as well as weed seeds. As most other finches, and unlike sparrows, they feed primarily regurgitated seeds (and not insects) to their nestlings. If you live within their range, you may attract them to your feeder with black oil sunflower seeds.

Here are some ID hints to separate House and Purple Finches.

Male Purple Finches differ from male House Finches in the following ways. The red of House Finch is more orangish, rarely yellowish-orange. The brightest red on House Finch is on the forehead, upper breast, and rump. The crown of the head and back are usually brown, not red. In contrast, the red on Purple Finch is more evenly and widely distributed. It covers all of the head feathers, including the crown, and red edges continue on the feathers of the back and upper wings (see photo above).

In shape, Purple Finches are larger headed and shorter tailed than House Finches. The tail is more notched in Purple Finch. The brown coloration of Purple Finches is slightly greenish, described as an olive-brown (see lower neck, wings, and tail in above photo). The brown of House Finches is paler gray-brown. This applies to both males and females.

Pay particular attention to the pattern on the head of these female finches. The head of female House Finches is relatively plain, evenly streaked, without any particular pattern. The head pattern of female Purple Finches shows a contrasting paler eyebrow that wraps around the dark brown ear coverts and merges into another wide pale malar stripe--originating at the closure of the bill and wrapping back under the brown ear coverts. This same pattern is evident on the males.

The song of Purple Finch is a rapid, clear, bubbly warble. I think it has the pattern similar to: hurry-litte, hurry-little, hurry-litte, Hup! Hup! In contrast, House Finches have a long unpatterned warble, often starting with buzzy notes, going into clear high notes, then ending in a grating note, veeerrr. Calling overhead, House Finches chirp like House Sparrows, while Purple Finches give a hard crossbill-like plik call.