What’s less than five inches tall yet poses a mighty threat to fruits? If you said the Purple Finch, you’d be right. The state bird of New Hampshire may look non-threatening to you, but Purple Finches are actually considered predators when it comes to fruits. Unlike many other birds that help to spread the seeds of fruits, these finches eat the seeds, and that’s the end of the line.
While Purple Finches maybe an enemy of the fruits they like to snarf up, they are a friend to those of us in the birding community who love to see them at our feeders. Their distinctive coloring, upbeat song, and playful mating ritual are enough to motivate many people to stock up on Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, one of their favorite treats.
Purple Finches have no trouble opening sunflower seeds, as well as most types of seeds and nuts. They have relatively large beaks. The Purple Finch is often confused with its close relative, the House Finch. If you would like to learn about this differences, we have an article devoted to distinguishing these beautiful birds. This stocky little finch that is said to “look like a sparrow dipped in raspberry juice” loves coniferous trees which provide a constant source of food. In addition to feasting on seeds from trees such as evergreens and elms, tulip poplars, and maples, this finch has an adaptable palate and will also eat soft buds and nectar. It enjoys fruits, including apricots and blackberries, plants like dandelions and ragweed, and insects such as grasshoppers and beetles.
Because of the Purple Finch’s desire for the seeds of coniferous trees, they tend to migrate every other year keeping up with the latest cone crop. If you live in the eastern half of the United States, chances are you see Purple Finches every other winter. Those on the west coast and in the northeast may be lucky enough to see these stocky birds all year long. Purple Finches tend to spend their summers breeding in Canada.
When it comes to courtship, Purple Finches have one of the more entertaining flirtations in the world of birds. Courting males sing while hopping and fluffing their feathers in front of the female. The song is a “warbling” one typical of finches. During this ritual, he’ll hold a twig or grass stem in his beak. If the female seems interested, the next step is a flight about one foot straight up, followed by drooping the wings and pointing his beak to the sky. The next and final step maybe mating.
The females do all the work when it comes to nesting. She’ll build her nest far out on a limb up as high as 60 feet. Nest building takes about three to eight days of gathering twigs, roots, grasses, and animal hair. The female is much more drab in color, lacking any red. She’s brown and white with bold streaking on her wings and distinctive white bars on her face.
Although Purple Finches have two to seven eggs and one to two broods, they are declining in numbers. They simply have a tough time competing against House Finches, which usually win when there’s competition for food and territories. The Purple Finch is not considered endangered, but its population has been steadily declining by 1.4 percent a year since 1966.
Purple Finches can put a little spark of color and fun into your winter birding. Their cheerful song, beautiful coloring, and non-aggressive nature make them quite the welcome visitor. Please let us know if you are seeing Purple Finches this winter in your area. Do you have photos of Purple Finches? If so, please share them with our Facebook community. Join the conversation by clicking the link below.
Want to see Purple Finches in action, click on this video. It shows a Purple Finch couple as they enjoy a snack with a few American Goldfinch friends.
A Purple Finch couple with a few American Goldfinch friends
Cole’s Wild Bird Products is a family-owned company that distributes wild bird feed and suet products. The company is known for offering the highest quality products on the market. Cole’s also specializes in chile infused seed products designed to make your feeder a bird’s only “hot” spot. Cole’s started in the garage of mom and pop entrepreneurs Richard and Nancy Cole back in the early 1980’s. Today it distributes to retailers nationwide. Cole’s is located in the metro Atlanta area. For more information, visit www.ColesWildBird.com.