Hey guys, welcome back! Today, a little break from the summer heat, as we take a look at a bird that is most often found in the U.S. during the colder months (with some exceptions); the purple finch! Purple finches mostly breed up in Canada but can be found along the Pacific coast and parts of the northeast year round. In the east, their closest lookalike is the house finch. Out west, there’s a third lookalike finch, the Cassin’s finch, but the area in which they overlap with the purple finch is relatively small.
At first glance, you might think you’re looking at a house finch, with maybe a more raspberry red. Although some birders use this difference in the shade of red, it’s not always reliable. A bird’s red coloration is a result of their diet, and how their body metabolizes certain chemicals. Therefore, the shade and intensity of the red color can vary significantly depending on the region and diet of the bird. A better way to distinguish between the birds is how much color there is. A house finch will typically only have red color on his head and breast, while the purple finch’s color washes over most of the bird, including their back and wings. Females are a little tougher, as they’re both brown and streaked. The purple finch, however, has a distinct light eyebrow, and the markings look like someone took a house finch and turned the contrast up all the way.
Unfortunately, I have no pics of the purple finch, as you may have noticed. I’ve seen plenty, but not in a while. Purple finches move erratically; some winters they’re everywhere, and others you won’t see a single one. Last one I saw (as of this writing) was in Central Park near the Lasker Skating Rink in the winter of 2017/2018. Usually, the Park would get a few a year, but that year I don’t remember any being reported other than the one I saw, and I only saw it that once. Go figure. Next up, we’ll finish off the month of July with one of the largest sparrows, the eastern towhee. See you all then!