Photograph by Vickie Anderson, Nat Geo Image Collection
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A purple finch perches on a branch.

Photograph by Vickie Anderson, Nat Geo Image Collection

Purple Finch

About the Purple Finch

This migratory rose red (not purple) finch is fairly common throughout much of the northeast, Canadian provinces, and much of the Pacific coast. Generally found in less disturbed habitats than house finch. Polytypic (2 ssp.). Length 6".


A rather chunky Carpodacus finch with a shortish, strongly notched tail. Male: body mostly rose red, brightest on the head and rump. Back brownish with noticeable streaks and pinkish ground color. Head rather bright, with distinct paler pink eyebrow contrasting with a darker cheek. Two indistinct pinkish wing bars on each wing. Lower belly whitish with varying amounts of wide blurry streaks. Undertail coverts clean white. Bill rather large, conical, with a straight culmen. Female: underparts whitish with heavy dark brown streaking that does not extend to the white undertail coverts. Head boldly patterned with whitish eyebrow and submoustachial stripe that contrast with a dark brown cheek and malar stripe. Crown and back have pale streaks. Pacific birds buffier below overall with more diffuse streaking.

Geographic Variation

Range and plumage differences delineate 2 distinct subspecies. Nominate purpureus resides in the northeast and the boreal forests of southern Canada; the male has longer wings and is brighter overall, the female has a bolder head pattern and whiter underparts. The Pacific coast californicus male is less bright and has a brownish wash on its back and sides; the female is much buffier underneath with a less bold face pattern and more blurred back streaking.

Similar Species

Males and females most similar to Cassin’s finch, which do not overlap with each other in the east, but are more confusing in the west. Male Cassin’s is lighter pink, particularly on the underparts and eyebrow.


Call: a musical chur-lee, and a sharp pit given in flight. Song: a rich warbling; shorter than the Cassin’s and lower pitched and more strident than the house finch. Songs of nominate subspecies more complex.

Status and Distribution

Fairly common. Breeding: inhabits open coniferous forests and mixed woodland in the east and north, and montane coniferous forest and oak canyons in the west. Winter: eastern birds migrate south to lower latitudes, sometimes irrupting with major invasions south to the southern United States western birds move to lower elevations. Rare throughout much of the interior west.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006