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 experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019
  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018