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The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group. It is a place for the community to note any observations they have made of the world around them. Each note is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the patterns that are quietly unfolding around us.
Gooseville, WI

All my little purple birds of winter wear royal feathered garments and stay year round. They'll be more brightly regal come spring when their joyous songs begin.

Purple finches are native to North America. House finches were originally from the western United States and Mexico, but were brought east to Long Island in the 1940s to be illegally sold as caged birds. Most of the Hollywood Finches were released to avoid prosecution and they successfully multiplied. My feeders have both species year round.


House Finch, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch and Dark-eyed Junco

Can you easily tell the difference between the male house finch and the male purple finch? Or are they just purple birds you call purple finches?

These days you probably live in an area that has house finches year round. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has one map and National Geographic has another.



According to my early notes, the first house finches arrived at my feeders in early spring of 1983. It took me awhile to figure out who was who. Within five years, I was hard put to find a purple finch. It seemed their population took a nose dive, while the house finches flourished.


See those heavily streaked flanks of the house finch? That's a tell.


See that tail? House finches don't have much of a middle notch in the tail. Their tails are rather flat across the bottom edge. If his wings weren't so tight, you'd see a raspberry-red rump above the tail. Take a look at the first photo in the diary. The house finch on the feeder shows a rosy-red rump patch.

House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus

Most of you will only see your purple finches in winter as the map shows. In spring they migrate to the north and Canada.


Roger Tory Peterson famously described the purple finch as a “sparrow dipped in raspberry juice." I agree! They're exquisite.


Purple finches are chunkier than house finches and sport large conical beaks while wearing cute, fluffy white underpants. Notice the deeply notched tail?


Purple Finch Haemorhous purpureus


These days the purple finch population seems to have stabilized around here and is holding its own against the raucous flocks of house finches. I'll save identifying female house and purple finches for another day when male spring song bursts forth.

Here's the song of the Purple Finch.

Here's the song of the House Finch.

What's happening in your neck of the woods? Got purple or house finches? This bucket is now open for observing purple birds and discussion of all other really interesting stuff.



"Green Diary Rescue" is Back!

"Green Diary Rescue" will be posted every Saturday at 1:00 pm Pacific Time on the Daily Kos front page.  

Originally posted to Backyard Science on Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 07:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Birds and Birdwatching.

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