Make the ID: House Finch vs Purple Finch

Purple Finch
Photo Credit: Stan Tekeila
Two beautiful reddish finches which can be easily confused…but just as easily identified! Well, they are very similar…or are they?  Interested in making the ID? Here are some things to look for to tell them apart:


1 –  Field Marks – Male House Finches are a rosy red around the face and on the breast
House Finch
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel
 they are streaked dark brown on white.  Male Purple finches aren’t exactly purple, but a different red than House Finches – more of a
berry color. But the key here is that Purple Finches have more red on their heads, neck and back, and the streaking on the whitish breast is the same berry-red. So, if you can see the bird clearly in good light, you can make the ID.  If the bird isn’t terribly clear…


2 – Where are you? – House Finches in spectacular breeding plumage will be found throughout the US with the exception of the midwest from east Texas and Louisiana straight north to Canada and also some areas of the high Northwest US.  Purple Finches on the other hand breed mostly in Canada and a small patch in Oregon. You may see Purple Finches on their way to Canada to breed in the East and Southeast US as well as along the West coast, but they are going to be scattered migrants.  If it’s spring for example, and you are in a spot where Purple Finches migrate through, then there is one more thing you can try.


3 – What habitat are you in?  If you are seeing these birds in an urban environment or in populated suburban areas, then it’s more likely a House Finch.  Purple Finches prefer mixed and evergreen forests and maybe some suburban areas. But they are less tolerant than House Finches of human interaction except during winter where they can be more widely found. House Finches can also be found in their natural habitat of desert grasslands and drier areas out west.