Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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Species: Purple Finch Carpodacus purpureus


Described as a ‘heavy-billed’ sparrow that has been dipped in ‘raspberry juice’ the Purple Finch is a ravenous guest at bird feeders when seed crops fail in northern coniferous forests.
The Purple Finch is moderately common across the northern U.S. and southern and central Canada and the west coast of North America. During winter, it ranges throughout much of the eastern U.S. and southern Canada and migrates into lower-elevation areas in the west.


General: A relatively large finch with a notched tail which is much shorter than the wing. The beak is short and conical with the culmen (upper bill) in silhouette shallowly curved. 12.4-15.4 cm long and 22g weight.

Adult Male: Raspberry red colouration spreads relatively uniformly across upperparts, head, neck and sides; lower belly and undertail-coverts usually unmarked, white.

Adult female and Juveniles: Virtually indistinguishable, generally have little or no red, are strongly streaked across back and sides of belly with dark brown over gray, and have a conspicuous light eyebrow stripe contrasting with a solid ear patch; background belly colouration of females and juveniles bright white.

Similar Species: Red of male House Finch usually brighter, more orange-tinted; the upper bill (culmen) of House Finch much larger and less curved.

Behavior: The Purple Finch feeds mainly on seeds, buds, blossoms, nectar, fruit of trees and occasionally insects.
Sallies from perch to catch insects. During sustained flight has an undulating trajectory.

Habitat: Breeds primarily in moist or cool coniferous forests and winters in a range of habitats including coniferous, deciduous and mixed coniferous-deciduous forest, urban and suburban areas, mixed shrub, weedy fields and hedgerows. Habitat choice may be dictated by availability of food resources rather than habitat structure.


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.
In winter, Purple Finches travel in undulating flocks, filling the brisk air with their metallic”tick” notes. The 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 coniferous cones.
Purple Finches produce 4-6 pale greenish-blue marked with brown or black flecks, eggs. The cup nest is in a horizontal coniferous branch between 6 and 40 ft high.

Conservation Status:
There is no evidence of immediate danger of declines or northern and eastern populations but more monitoring is required.
Capture Rates

The Purple Finch is a resident of Colony Farm. Its capture rates (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours) fluctuate throughout the year, peaking during different months. The peak from July through October corresponds with juvenile dispersal and increased movement after the breeding season. The peak in December is probably due to the attraction of the feeder as a consistent food source during a cold winter month.

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