Purple Finch

Back at home, my spirits lifted because it seemed like I’d finally found all the birds. Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees and a Downy Woodpecker were coming and going from the feeders. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet called jidit-jidit from some wax myrtles. An Eastern Towhee called a rich chur-whee, and two Towhees scratched up leaves under holly bushes. Several Yellow-rumped Warblers flew from tree to tree around the yard, scattering their quick, light check calls. 

From deep in the leaves of a bush beside the porch, the gentle face of a small grayish bird with a white throat and a white, broken ring around its eye peered out – a Yellow-rumped Warbler. A White-throated Sparrow flew into the same bush with a thumping flurry, and looked around. A bird bath stands very close to this bush, and they may both have been considering whether a visit to it was safe.

A stocky, heavily streaked bird flew to the feeder and sat for a moment on top of it, while a Tufted Titmouse sat below eating seeds. The new bird was one I haven’t seen here before, a small bird – but it didn’t look small. It had a sturdy presence. A brown finch, very heavily streaked on the breast and sides, and a striped face with a long white eyebrow and a large conical bill. It was a Purple Finch – a female or a first-year male. It’s the first Purple Finch I’ve seen in several years, and I’m not sure we have ever seen one here in Summit Grove until today.

Purple Finches are considered fairly common across much of the U.S., but they are not common here. A male Purple Finch is raspberry-red – much more colorful than the female, though her bold, brown-streaked plumage is striking in its own way. Although Purple Finches are described as widespread and often come to bird feeders, they have become less common in the eastern U.S. in the past several decades. Competition with House Sparrows and House Finches – two species not native to America – is thought to have contributed to a decline in their populations. 

House Finches are very common birds here, year-round. Both male and female House Finches look like smaller, washed-out versions of the more boldly colored Purple Finches. However, one study has shown that in competition between the two, Purple Finches lost out to House Finches 95 percent of the time – a fact that seems amazing to me, because Purple Finches look as if they should be more dominant. But looks can be deceiving.

The Purple Finch I watched this morning looked strong and aggressive. It chased the Titmouse away and sat on the feeder by itself, eating black sunflower seeds. When a second Purple Finch – also a female or first-year male – appeared on a nearby branch, the first one chased it away and returned to the feeder and kept eating. The second Finch stayed nearby in a tree – but then something startled them and they both flew away and did not come back while I was outside.

Leave a Reply