David Sibley’s regular column “ID Toolkit” is a popular part of every issue of Birdwatching. In our November-December 2016 issue, he gives tips for identifying Purple Finch and House Finch.
The finch above is a male Purple Finch. Photographer Teri Franzen spotted it in an oak tree in early March 2013. As you can see, it isn’t purple; it’s rose-red. And the color is extensive, washing from the head onto the back and the throat and breast, and blending seamlessly onto the flanks.
A reliable way to distinguish Purple Finches from House Finches, Sibley writes in our November-December 2016 issue, is to look for a slight peak or triangular crest on the head of Purple Finches. You can see this in Teri Franzen’s photo at top, and on the head of the male above, photographed in Salem, Oregon, by Gary Miller.
We like the photograph above, taken by Daniel Behm in late winter in southern Ohio, because it shows a male and a female Purple Finch together. The female (right) lacks the male’s rose-red color and is streaked with brown overall. More significant, her face is boldly marked with a whitish eyebrow and a dark cheek patch. Notice, too, the birds’ tails: Both are distinctly notched.
The bird above is a male House Finch that Harry Collins photographed in Pennsylvania. Its red color covers less of the body than it does on Purple Finch. The House Finch also has a brown cap and brown cheeks, its underparts are marked with sharp brown streaks, and its bib and underparts meet at a fairly clear line. And once again, notice the tail: It isn’t as distinctly notched as the tail of Purple Finch.
The bird above is a female House Finch. Like the female Purple Finch, it lacks the male’s red color and is streaked with brown overall. The female House Finch’s face, however, is plain. It lacks the bold eyebrow and dark ear patch of the female Purple Finch. Tena Southern took the photo in November 2016.
And here’s another point of distinction between the species: Some male House Finches, like the one above, photographed by Cecil Holmes in Huntsville, Alabama, aren’t red at all. They’re orange, or even yellow. Purple Finches are never that color. — Chuck Hagner, Editor
The November-December 2016 issue of BirdWatching containing David Sibley’s tips for identifying Purple and House Finches went on sale at Barnes & Noble and other newsstands November 8.
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