House Finch Vs Purple Finch

Table of Contents

How to Tell the Difference Between Purple Finch vs. House Finch?

Do you know the difference between a purple finch and a house finch? Even though they look similar, the two species have distinct features that allow them to be identified with ease. In this article, we will delve into the differences between purple finches and house finches, including their range and habitat, size and bill, coloration, nesting, behavior, and food.

We’ll also address what strategies can be employed to differentiate between them and how accurately it is to make an identification. By understanding the differences between purple finch vs house finch, we can better appreciate their significance in our environment and how each species adapts differently.

Short Summary

  • House Finches inhabit open, arid areas while Purple Finches are found in dense forests along the West Coast, southern Canada, and the Northeast.
  • Easily distinguishable by size and bill shape, with House Finches having a small curved bill and Purple Finches having a longer straight bill.
  • Male House Finches typically have an orange or yellow coloring, while male Purple Finches display a deep cranberry or raspberry color.
Characteristic House Finch Purple Finch
Size Smaller, about 5 to 6 inches (12-15 cm) Slightly larger, about 6 to 7 inches (15-18 cm)
Plumage (Male) Reddish face and breast, streaked sides Raspberry-red head and breast, brown streaks on sides
Plumage (Female) Brown overall with heavy streaking Brown with heavy streaking and some red tones
Bill Short, conical bill Short, conical bill
Song Warbling, melodic song Sweet, melodious song
Habitat Urban areas, forests, and open fields Coniferous and mixed forests
Range Native to western North America Native to northern parts of North America
Feeding Habits Seed eaters, also consume insects Primarily seed eaters, occasionally insects
Nesting Build cup-shaped nests in trees and shrubs Build cup-shaped nests in trees
Migration Sedentary, some populations may migrate Migratory, with movements southward in winter
Conservation Status Least Concern Least Concern

House Finch Vs Purple Finch Range and Habitat

House Finches are present in the Lower 48 states of the United States, while Purple Finches are primarily located in dense forests along the West Coast, southern Canada, and the Northeast. Both House Finches and Purple Finches belong to the same family group, Fringillidae, and the same genus, Haemorhous.

House Finches tend to inhabit open, arid areas, while Purple finches are generally found in dense forests. Additionally, House Finches are widely distributed across the Lower 48 states, while Purple Finches are primarily located in dense forests along the West Coast, southern Canada, and the Northeast.

Furthermore, Purple finches are migratory birds and tend to travel during the winter, forming large flocks, whereas House Finches may migrate depending on their location.

House Finch Range and Habitat

The natural habitat of the House Finch is a wide distribution, ranging from western North America to the northeastern United States and the Great Lakes region. They are often observed in urban, suburban, agricultural, and canyon habitats and migrate short distances.

House Finches can be identified by their distinct, rounded head shape, heavy and rounded beak, and the presence of a female with brown plumage. Male House Finches, on the other hand, are bright red and have a more subtle call than their Purple Finch counterparts.

Additionally, House Finches are seed-eating birds and are often seen at bird feeders, particularly during the breeding season.

Purple Finch Range and Habitat

The Purple Finch’s range extends from Newfoundland and Labrador, across Eastern Canada, through the prairies, into the Territories, to the southern end of the Yukon Territory, and south along the Pacific coast to southern California. The Purple Finch is typically found in coniferous and mixed forests and are irregular winter visitors to feeders.

Purple Finches can be identified by their straight profile with a seamless transition between the back and head, pointed beak, and barrel-chested, front-heavy appearance. Males have a bright red head, wings, and tail, while females possess a brownish coloration.

They are also seed-eating birds and are often found near bird feeders, particularly during the year round. It is thought that competition with House Finch may be a factor contributing to the decline in Purple Finch populations in the East.

House Finch Vs Purple Finch Size and Bill

House Finches have an average wingspan of 9.5 inches, while Purple Finches have an average wingspan of 10 inches. House Finches possess a bill that is small and curved, whereas Purple Finches have a bill that is long and straight. Consequently, the two species can be readily distinguished by their size and bill shape.

House Finches are slightly larger than Purple Finches, and they have a larger head and slightly shorter tails. Their bills are bulbous in shape, which makes them well-suited for consuming small seeds.

On the other hand, Purple Finches have a longer bill that is straight and conical in shape, making them better adapted for cracking open larger seeds.

House Finch Size and Bill

The House Finch measures 13-14 cm in length and weighs 16-27 g, with a wingspan of up to 9.5 inches. Its bill is small and curved, which makes the bird well-suited for consuming small seeds.

The female House Finch is slightly larger than the male, with a more rounded head and a slightly shorter tail. Male House Finches typically have brighter colors than their female counterparts, making them easier to spot at bird feeders.

In addition, the call of the male House Finch is distinctive, and it is a useful tool for identifying the species.

Purple Finch Size and Bill

The Purple Finch is a diminutive avian with a conical bill. It typically measures 4.7-6.3 inches (12-16 cm) in length and weighs 0.6-1.1 ounces (18-32 g). The bird’s bill is short and straight, making it well-suited for cracking seeds.

Male Purple Finches are easily distinguishable by their bright brown plumage, which can be mistaken for Blue Jays. Female Purple Finches have more muted colors, but they can still be distinguished from House Finches by their slightly larger size and longer tails.

In addition, the call of the Purple Finch is distinct and can be used to easily identify the species.

American Goldfinch perched on a branch with its notched tail and conical bill visible

Purple Finch Tail Vs. House Finch Tail

The Purple Finch Tail vs. House Finch Tail exhibit subtle but distinct differences that aid in their identification. The Purple Finch’s tail is slightly shorter and rounder, while the House Finch’s tail appears longer and more tapered. In terms of coloration, the Purple Finch tail displays a rich brown hue with darker edges and subtle streaks, whereas the House Finch tail may exhibit hints of reddish or chestnut tones, especially in males. These variations in tail shape and coloration, unique to the Purple Finch Tail vs. House Finch Tail, provide valuable visual cues for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts, allowing them to distinguish between these two captivating finch species.

House Finch Vs Purple Finch Coloration

Male House Finches typically display a yellow coloring derived from carotenoid pigments found in their diet. This coloration is concentrated on their heads and chests, while their backs and wings are more heavily streaked in shades of brown and gray.

Male Purple Finches are distinctively different from their counterparts, as they are known for their striking red-colored plumage. This deep cranberry or raspberry coloration is found across most of their body. While both sexes of these birds possess blurry streaking patterns, the female Purple Finch has two white stripes that extend from their beaks to the nape of their necks, which can be used for identification. This unique pattern is absent in female House Finches.

When comparing the two species, it’s important to note that the males of both birds have unique coloration. Male House Finches usually appear more orange or yellow, while male Purple Finches typically display a deep cranberry or raspberry color. Additionally, female Purple Finches have a distinctive face pattern with two white stripes extending from their beak to the nape of their necks, which is absent in female House Finches.

House Finch Vs Purple Finch Nesting

House Finches have a wide variety of nesting habits, often choosing to build nests in ivy growing on buildings and trees or man-made structures such as window ledges. On the other hand, Purple Finches typically nest in forest conifers or shrubs.

Although both species nest in different habitats, they have similar construction processes, both buildings have cup-shaped nests comprised of grasses, hair, or other available fibers.

House Finches are able to lay up to six clutches of eggs in one summer, although usually, only three make it to the fledging stage. Meanwhile, Purple Finches usually lay four light blue speckled eggs, with an incubation period of thirteen days before they hatch.

House Finch Nesting

House Finches typically begin breeding between March and August, with the female House Finch responsible for building the nests. These nests are typically made of grasses, hair, or other available fibers, with House Finches able to lay up to 6 clutches of eggs in one summer, although usually, only three make it to the fledging stage.

House Finch males may display brown plumage and white wing bars, while their female counterparts may be mistaken for a blue jay due to their similar coloring. Meanwhile, male Purple Finches can be identified by their plain head and folded wings, with females having a softer call than their House Finch counterparts.

Purple Finch Nesting

Purple Finches build their nests in coniferous forests, on horizontal branches, or in forks of trees such as Douglas fir and spruce. The Purple Finch builds a cup-shaped nest comprised of small sticks and a soft interior of grass and hair. A female Purple Finch typically lays around 4 light blue speckled eggs, with an incubation period of approximately 13 days before they hatch.

While House Finches may have primary feathers that reach past their secondary feathers, Purple Finches have a deep notch in between their primary and secondary feathers which gives them a longer tail. In comparison, House Finches have a shallow notch and a shorter tail.

Both species are seed-eaters, yet the differences in their nesting habits and physical features make them easy to identify.

House Finch Vs Purple Finch Behavior

House Finches are known to be social and non-territorial birds, often seen in flocks exhibiting hierarchical behavior, while Purple Finches tend to be solitary and territorial. Although the behavior of both species displays seasonal variation, there are notable distinctions between the two.

House Finches are normally seen in small groups or flocks, displaying diurnal activity and nesting closely together. They are known to be quite amiable with humans and often remain in the same region throughout the year.

Conversely, Purple Finches are solitary and territorial during the breeding season, although this behavior is relaxed during the winter season. They often gather in flocks during winter and are known to vocalize to protect their territories while perched on the nest.

ALSO READ: The Fascinating Behavior Of Male House Finches During Breeding Season

House Finch Behavior

House Finches are typically active during daytime hours, not aggressive towards other birds, and often nest in close proximity. Their activity patterns are typically seasonal and they display a social behavior with females usually dominant over males within the groups.

The estimated lifespan of House Finches is believed to be up to 15-20 years, although the more common lifespan is likely to be five to ten years.

Purple Finch Behavior

The behavior of Purple Finches changes over the course of the seasons. During winter, they display a social nature, often gathering in flocks, whereas during the breeding season they become territorial and aggressive.

Both male and female Purple Finches are known to vocalize a song to protect their territories while perched on the nest. The Purple Finch is distinguishable by its brown plumage and blue jay-like primary feathers that reach past its secondary feathers.

House Finch Vs Purple Finch Food

House Finches generally consume a vegetarian diet consisting of vegetables, fruit, seeds, buds, berries, and small flowers. They rarely feed on insects. In winter, the Purple Finch is particularly fond of sunflower seeds, while in summer its diet consists of fruits, seeds, and various insects, often attracted to feeders. Both species are attracted to bird feeders and enjoy sunflower seeds during the winter months.

During the summer, they feed on a variety of fruits, seeds, and insects. Purple Finches can be easily identified by their bright red plumage on the head and breast of males, while females tend to be more brown and plain-faced. They have slimmer bodies than House Finches, with folded wings that appear shorter than those of other seed-eaters. Males can be seen chasing off other males while searching for  house finch food, showing their dominance.

Black oil sunflower seed is a favorite of both House and Purple Finches, and birdwatchers can enjoy watching these birds feed from the comfort of their own homes.

ID Challenge

Accurately distinguishing between House and Purple Finches can be challenging, yet it is essential due to their divergent ranges and habitats as well as their varying population trends. Knowing how to reliably differentiate between the two species is key in order to accurately identify birds in the field.

The physical characteristics that can be used to distinguish between the two species include the adult male Purple Finch having a reddish streaked back with more red on the face and neck than adult male House Finches, which have brown streaking on the back and some brown on the face. Additionally, while both species have similar bills, the House Finch’s is slightly larger and more pointed than the Purple Finches.

When viewing multiple birds in the group from different perspectives, birders will gain a clearer understanding of the distinguishing features needed for a reliable identification. In cases where a definite identification is not possible, it is best to leave the bird unidentified, as female and juvenile specimens can be particularly difficult to differentiate.

When it comes to identifying House and Purple Finches, it is important to take into account the range and habitat of each species as well as the size, bill, and coloration. Additionally, using strategies such as viewing multiple birds in the group from different perspectives and refraining from making a guess when a definitive identification is uncertain can help birders make reliable identifications.

Summary

When trying to differentiate between House Finches and Purple Finches, birders can take comfort in knowing that there are distinct features available for observation. Being able to recognize the subtle differences in size, bill shape, coloration, nesting behavior, and diet can help distinguish between these two vibrant birds.

The key difference lies in their range and habitat with the House Finch inhabiting open arid areas whereas the Purple Finch is more commonly found in dense forests along the West Coast, southern Canada, and the Northeast. For a sure ID, use multiple perspectives to view the group while keeping an eye out for telltale signs.

With its unique plumage, sweet call, and captivating behaviors, the Purple Finch will undoubtedly keep birdwatchers continually entertained!

American Goldfinch flying in the sky with its notched tail

Frequently Asked Questions

How to tell the difference between a House Finch and a Purple Finch?

You can distinguish a House Finch from a Purple Finch by observing the shape and length of their tails. House Finch tails extend beyond their wings and have rounded feathers, whereas the Purple Finch tail barely extends beyond its wings and the feather tips are pointy.

By recognizing these physical differences, you can differentiate these two birds even when they are perched at a feeder.

Is a House Finch a Purple Finch?

No, a House Finch is not a Purple Finch. Although they are similar in size and shape, they can be easily distinguished by their color; the male House Finch is reddish-orange while the male Purple Finch is reddish-purple.

The House Finch also has distinctive streaks of color on its breast and sides.

How rare is a Purple Finch?

Overall, the Purple Finch is considered to be a common species and is found in most areas of North America.

However, it is quite rare in some regions such as the Rocky Mountains.

How do you tell the difference between a Purple Finch female and a House Finch female?

To tell the difference between a Purple Finch female and a House Finch female, look for bold facial patterns on the Purple Finch and white feathers showing through on the sides and back of the House Finch. Additionally, the Purple Finch has a distinct white streak over her eye, a dark cheek patch, and a white stripe at the bottom of the cheek.

Marry J Correy

Marry J Correy

Living in San Francisco, we get to see (and hear) quite a few House Finches all year round.
When a couple of them made their home in my back yard, I started to feed them and even got a little wooden birdhouse.
So I thought I'd tell you what I discovered...

About Me

Living in San Francisco, we get to see (and hear) quite a few House Finches all year round.
When a couple of them made their home in my back yard, I started to feed them and even got a little wooden birdhouse.
So I thought I’d tell you what I discovered…

Recent Posts

Fun House Finch bath