Mar 6, 2014 | Featured Web Article

Identifying Red Finches

How do you tell a house finch from a purple finch? Check out tips below.
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The two common "red" finches that visit bird feeders all over North America are the purple finch and the house finch. Of these two, the house finch is the more common. It is also the more commonly misidentified because its plumage can vary from dull red to bright orange.

Male purple finch versus male house finch

The male purple finch is a lovely bird, thanks to the pinkish-purple wash of color throughout his plumage. It looks as if the bird has been dipped in raspberry wine. This raspberry color bleeds onto the bird's back and wings—only the lower sides and belly are clean white. A male house finch has much more localized color. He is reddish only on his head, breast, and lower back. The upper back and wings are streaky brown, without a wash of color.

Perhaps the quickest way to distinguish the two adult male finches is to look at the birds' lower flanks (the area on the bird's side from below the wings to the tail): If the flanks are streaked with brown, it's a male house finch. If the flanks are white, with a hint of pink, it's a male purple finch.

Female purple finch versus female house finch

Female purple finches look entirely different from males and are much more boldly streaked than female house finches. Look for the sharp contrast in the female purple finch's dark brown and white areas. Female house finches are more muted in color, with fine streaks of brown and tan blending into dull white. This difference is especially evident in the faces of the two female finches. A dark cheek patch encircled in white sets the purple finch apart. The female house finch's face is dull and evenly colored.

Overall appearance

In overall appearance, the purple finch looks more substantial, plumper, and chestier. Purples often appear to have a slight crest of feathers on their head, unlike the flat-crowned house finch. At feeders, purple finches are calmer and perch quietly in one place to eat while the flightier house finches flutter and tweet incessantly.

Songs

The songs of both species are rich, rapid, and musical, but the purple finch's song lacks the harsh, burry downward slurred notes which the house finch inserts into every song.

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  • I have the same situation. The feeder is attached to the middle of a large picture window that goes ceiling to floor w/ no ledge or sill for animals to climb or balance. Yet every morning all the sunflower seeds have been cracked open and hulls left. Any ideas what it is?
    by Liza Fox, Sun, 15 Nov 2020
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    by Nosferatu, Thu, 05 Nov 2020
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    by Ella Spencer Connolly, Thu, 27 Aug 2020
  • I found where he lives, then I keep him up all day by singing at full volume! Hah, that'll show the little sucker!
    by Pike Juan, Tue, 11 Aug 2020
  • I never knew feeding birds could be so confusing. I love watching the birds in my backyard even though I don't get a very big variety.
    by JustMyOpinion, Sun, 26 Jul 2020