Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bird Quiz

My post about House Finch v. Purple Finch has started some controversy among some very knowledgeable readers. I am far from an expert and would love to have others speak up. One reason for my saying it is a House Finch is the phrase, "If you see a Purple Finch, you will know it." This bird is like all the others I have seen all winter, surely too common to be a Purple Finch. Additionally, while not all the photographs show it, he was svelte, not chunky.

I would love to be incorrect. It would give my husband such a thrill. Since I'm not a bird expert by any means, I will take it as a learning experience and will indeed say, "Yes, dear. That is a Purple Finch."

Any experts out there?


Lynne at Hasty Brook said...


Kathi said...


(although, I hate to be on your husband's side)

The big key when differentiating House Finches from Purple Finches is not the shade of red, the big key is the total lack of brown streaking on the breast/sides/flanks of this guy.

Look at the breast of the finch in photo one. See the "scalloped edges" of the raspberry color versus the creamy lower parts? That's characteristic of a purple finch. Even his legs are pinky-purple, where a house finch would have dark colored legs. The bill is much heavier than a house finch bill, too.

Also, if you look on the side view of the face on photos 2 and 4 you can see a pronounced head pattern that is classic Purple Finch.

Nice photos and YES! you have a Purple Finch.

~Kathi, pretending to be an expert

NCmountainwoman said...

Lynne - Thanks. Who'da thought I was watching Purple Finches???

Kathi - Thanks so much. Great description of how to differentiate them. Guess I must be the only person around who didn't "know one when you see it."

KGMom said...

Well, the big guns have weighed in--so I won't add a thing.
Whatever bird you have of the finch variety--me too. I got some of them. I have always called them purple finches, but as I said, I am no expert.

Anonymous said...

Ditto here. Purple finch, hands down. Dark face patch and malar stripe are key identifiers even if a person would want to dispute the overall raspberry coloration. Creamy lower parts rather than stripey also scream purple finch.

That finch is also possibly the purplist purple finch I've ever seen. Man!

Betsy Banks Adams said...

Ohhhhh---I hope for your hubby's sake that it is a Purple Finch.. I've never seen one. In fact we don't have House Finches either right now---only a trillion Pine Siskins.

Glad the experts have figured it out.

Kim said...

I can't tell the difference either, but KatDoc's information is very helpful for future reference.

The only thing I do know is that you get the coolest birds!

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Carolyn: What a fun contravercy, I'm sticking with you.

Cedar ... said...

KatDoc's description is most helpful. I guess what i've thought for a long time about purples being so rare, and what i had was house finches... i was wrong!!! and delighted to be wrong. THANKS! to KatDoc for such a good description, I'm going to print it to keep for future reference.

Jayne said...

It's SOOOOO a Purple Finch! :c)

Dog_geek said...

I would not have been able to tell, but it is great to read all the ways to distinguish in your comments section here. I'll have to start taking a closer look at the birds at our feeders, although I'm pretty they are all house finches.

Kathi said...

Thanks, all, for the nice compliments, but I'm really no expert. I struggled for some time with House and Purple Finches.

I always say it isn't what you know, it's knowing where to look. Two good sources to help you sort out the Carpodacus (red) finches - House, Purple, and (in the west) Cassin's - are Cornell's web site:

and "Identify Yourself" by Bill Thompson III & the editors of Bird Watcher's Digest, illustrations by Julie Zickefoose. This book is my bible when it comes to sorting out confusing species, like the Brown Thrushes or the Confusing Warblers.

~Kathi, taking a small bow

mon@rch said...

I think that would make a wonderful Valentines Day gift . . . dear its a Purple Finch! It kinda looks like a purple to me!

NCmountainwoman said...

Thanks again for all your help.

Bird girl - I'll definitely get more views next time.

Iris - I think the brilliant color was part of my problem in identifying it as a Purple Finch.

Kathi - Oh, yes you are an expert. And you are always so helpful. Thanks.

Monarch - Actually, my husband had been looking in the bird books and convinced himself it was a House Finch. He was less excited than I thought when I told him it was a Purple. I think his attitude was, "if it's so hard to tell, why bother?"