At a Glance
Not really purple, more of an old-rose color is the male Purple Finch. This species is common in the North and East, and along the Pacific seaboard, but it is very rare in much of the Rocky Mountains region. Purple Finches feed up in trees and on the ground in open woods. They readily come to bird feeders; but they have become less numerous as feeder visitors in the Northeast, where competition with introduced House Sparrows and then House Finches may have driven them back into the woods.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Finches, Perching Birds
Forests and Woodlands, High Mountains, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Urban and Suburban Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Flitter, Rapid Wingbeats, Undulating
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Migrates in flocks, mostly traveling by day. Migration is spread over a considerable period in both spring and fall.
5 1/2-6 1/2" (14-17 cm). Similar to House Finch but looks chunkier, shorter-tailed. Adult male more uniformly washed with dull red on head and foreparts, lacks obvious dark stripes on sides. Female and young show much stronger face pattern than House Finch, including dark whisker and whitish eyebrow. In mountain west, see Cassin's Finch.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Brown, Red, Tan, White
Songs and Calls
Rich musical warble. Call a distinctive tick in flight.
Chatter, Chirp/Chip, Hi, Trill, Whistle
Woods, groves, suburbs. Breeds mostly in coniferous and mixed woods, both in forest interior and along edges. In Pacific states, also breeds in oak woodland and streamside trees. In migration and winter, found in a wide variety of wooded and semi-open areas, including forest, suburbs, swamps, and overgrown fields.
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4-5, sometimes 3-6. Pale greenish blue, marked with black and brown. Incubation is by female, about 13 days.
Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave nest about 2 weeks after hatching. 1 brood per year, possibly 2 in Pacific Coast region.
Forages for seeds and insects up in trees and shrubs, also in low weeds and sometimes on the ground. When not nesting, may forage in small flocks. Comes to bird feeders.
Seeds, buds, berries, insects. Feeds mainly on seeds in winter, including seeds of trees such as ash and elm, as well as weed and grass seeds. Also eats buds of many trees, and many berries and small fruits. Eats some insects such as caterpillars and beetles, mainly in summer. Young may be fed mostly on seeds.
In courtship, male hops near female with his wings drooping, tail raised, chest puffed out, then vibrates wings until he rises a short distance in the air. May hold bits of nest material in bill and give soft song during this performance. Nest: Placed on horizontal branch or fork of tree (usually conifer in East, deciduous trees often used in far West), often well out from trunk. Typically about 15-20' above ground but may be lower or up to 50' high. Nest (probably built mostly by female) is compact open cup of twigs, weeds, rootlets, strips of bark, lined with fine grass, moss, animal hair.
Probably decreased in Northeast in late 19th century after introduction of House Sparrow. In recent decades has declined further in that area, possibly owing to competition with House Finch.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Purple Finch. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Purple Finch
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.