People passionate about nature

Purple Finch

Above: Adult male (upper right) and female or immature male Purple Finches at a feeder in Pinawa; by Peter Taylor

How do I recognize it?

The adult male Purple Finch was famously described by Roger Tory Peterson (the originator of many popular field guides) as resembling a sparrow dipped in raspberry juice. The purplish-red colour is most intense on the head, rump and breast, with a more subtle suffusion elsewhere. Females and immature males (until their second year) are streaked, sparrow-like birds, best identified by their bold, whitish “eyebrow” and “moustache” stripes.


Above: Purple Finches and a Pine Siskin (right) at a busy winter feeder at Pinawa; by Linda Huisman

Does it migrate?

Normally, Purple Finches are present in Manitoba from about the end of March until October. A few linger in the province through the winter every year, but large numbers have stayed here in some recent winters when various seed and berry crops were abundant. This reflects the nomadic, irruptive nature of the species, in common with many other finches.


Above: Male Purple Finch in a bur oak tree near Lac du Bonnet; by Peter Taylor

Where does it live?

Purple Finches breed mainly in a broad band across the southern half of the Manitoba boreal forest, with small numbers using ornamental tree plantings and shelter belts in urban and agricultural areas farther south.


Above: Two members of a feeder flock of Purple Finches at Pinawa in spring; by Peter Taylor

Where can I see it?

Purple Finches are most easily seen during spring migration between late March and early May, when they are avid visitors to seed feeders, enlivening neighbourhoods with their warbled songs. These songs also help to reveal their presence on forested breeding territories between May and early July. Identification has become more challenging in recent decades since the establishment of the related House Finch in many of southern Manitoba’s towns and cities.


Above: This Purple Finch in a cone-laden spruce near Beausejour could easily be mistaken for a crossbill; by Peter Taylor

Conservation Status:

There is currently little concern for Purple Finch numbers, but accurate monitoring is difficult because breeding populations are fairly sparse and mostly remote, while the fluctuations in winter numbers at any location tend to mask overall population trends.


Above: A male Purple Finch feeds on poplar catkins at Grand Marais; by Peter Taylor

Did you know:

The flowers and buds of various trees, especially poplar catkins, are among the preferred foods of Purple Finches during spring migration.

Written by Peter Taylor