Attracting House and Purple Finches to Your Backyard
House Finches are comfortable in urban areas such as city parks, city centres, backyards, farms, and forest edges, and these gregarious and social birds prefer to hang out in large noisy groups that are hard to miss when nearby. Look for House Finches feeding on the ground or at bird feeders, or perching high in nearby trees.
Your backyard feeder is a great place to look for Purple Finches. This species moves very erratically from year to year, so if you didn't have them this year don't despair, there’s always a chance they’ll arrive next year.
How do I to Tell House and Purple Finches Apart?
Both House and Purple Finches are small birds, coming in about the same size as a typical House Sparrow. One of the most common ID challenges to birders, new or experienced, the two can look very similar, but there are ways to tell these look-a-likes apart!
Purple Finches have powerful, conical beaks that are far larger than any sparrows. Male Purple Finches are a soft pinkish red on the head and breast, which mixes into brown on their back and cloudy white on the belly. They are often described as looking like they were "dipped in raspberry-jelly". Female Purple Finches have no red whatsoever and are often mistaken for sparrows at first glance. They are coarsely streaked below, with strong facial markings including a whitish eye-stripe and a dark line down the side of the throat. The tail of both sexes appears short and is clearly notched at the tip.
House Finches also have fairly large large beaks and somewhat long, flat heads. Their wings are short, which gives the tail the illusion of being long by comparison. Adult males are a rosy red colour on the face and upper breast, with a streaky brown back, belly and tail. In flight, the red rump is conspicuous. Like the Purple Finch, adult females aren’t red; instead they are plain grayish-brown with thick, blurry streaks and an indistinctly marked face. The lack of an eye-stripe is a great field-marking to determine if you have a female House or Purple Finch. While Purple Finches have a distinctive notched tail, the House Finch has a relatively shallow notch in its tail, often overlooked.
Juveniles of both Purple and House Finches look similar to the the females, and neither experience seasonal plumage changes.
Do They Migrate?
House Finches are non-migratory, year-round residents in their territory while Purple Finches are predominately migratory in more Northern populations. Here in Simcoe County, both are year-round residents. During the winter Purple Finches will often forage and roost with mixed flocks of Pine Siskin and American Goldfinch. In these flocks they are socially dominate over the goldfinch and subordinate to the Siskin.
Water is essential to all birds and providing a bird bath means they don’t have to travel great distances to find water. Water in a bird bath should be cleaned regularly as birds defecate, leave bits of food and feathers in the bath, not to mention leaves and other items that can end up in a bath. In the winter heated birdbaths provide an excellent place for birds to drink. During the warmer months the WBU Nature’s Large Drip-or-Mist creates moving water in your birdbath, making the bath even more attractive to birds. WBU Barrie carries a variety of plastic, metal and clay birdbaths and accessories, as well as heated birdbaths for the colder months. Visit our page on birdbaths for a selection of styles as well as accessories like brushes, misters, and water wigglers.
House Finches will nest in a variety of deciduous and coniferous trees. They are also nest in or on buildings, using vents, ledges, street lamps, ivy, and hanging planters. Occasionally House Finches use the abandoned nests of other birds.
Purple Finches prefer to nest far out on the limb of a coniferous tree. Occasionally will nests in shrubs. Nests can be 2.5 feet up to 60 feet off the ground and are often built under an overhanging branch for shelter.
Unfortunately neither House or Purple Finches will use a nest box. However, you can make your yard attractive to them as a nesting site by ensuring a variety of native plants and shrubs are planted to provide shelter and nesting opportunities. Keeping undergrowth around the edges of your yard can increase the likely hood of these beautiful birds choosing your yard as a nesting site. Hanging nesting material, such as Alpaca Fleece or our WBU Nesting Material Ball, will further encourage them to take up residence in our yard, and will add to your viewing pleasure as they will spend more time in your yard gathering their nesting materials.
- Male House and Purple Finches display a wide variety of plumage coloration ranging from gray to bright crimson. The coloration comes from carotenoid pigments found in some wild foods. The more pigment present in the foods eaten when they are molting new feathers … the redder the male.
- House Finches are early nesters, beginning in March in most of the country.
- Purple Finches can be attracted to sources of salt.
- For more information visit this great resource: Lab of Ornithology at Cornell - All About Birds - Purple Finch
- For more information visit this great resource: Lab of Ornithology at Cornell - All About Birds - House Finch