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David Sibley: How to tell Purple Finch from House Finch

A slight crest and a notched tail distinguish Purple Finch (left) from House Finch.
MORE RELIABLE THAN COLOR: A slight crest and a notched tail distinguish Purple Finch (left) from House Finch, which has a rounded head and a longer tail. Art by David Allen Sibley.

As the winter feeding season approaches, a perennial identification challenge looms: Purple Finch versus House Finch.

The two species are close relatives. Both are sparrow-sized and have stout bills. Adult males show lots of reddish color, while females and immatures are brown and streaky. Field guides tend to stress details of color for identification, but color is notoriously variable.

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David Sibley

David Sibley

David Sibley writes the column “ID Toolkit” in every issue of BirdWatching. He published the Sibley Guide to Birds in 2000, the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior in 2001, and Sibley’s Birding Basics in 2002. He is also the author of the Sibley Guide to Trees (2009), the Sibley Guide to Birds-Second Edition (2014), and guides to birds of eastern and western North America (2016). He is the recipient of the American Birding Association’s Roger Tory Peterson Award for lifetime achievement in promoting the cause of birding and a recognition award from the National Wildlife Refuge System for his support of bird conservation.

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