House Finch

Haemorhous mexicanus


Non-native Species
Year-round Resident

Purple Finch

Haemorhous purpureus


Early Spring Date: March 29
Late Spring Date: May 8
Most Frequently Seen: April 11-27

Some Purple Finches winter in the Washington metro area, but they are uncommon at Monticello Park. They breed in Canada, the northern United States, and the Appalachian Mountains. A small flurry of them sometimes passes through Monticello around the third and fourth weeks in April. House Finches are a non-native species from the western United States who can be seen at the park all year. Both Purple and House Finches visit local bird feeders.

Where to See Them in the Park

Purple Finches generally stay high in the trees, but they sometimes will forage lower. House Finches can be seen anywhere from the ground to the tops of trees. They frequently go into the stream to bathe and drink.

Physical Descriptions


House Finch Male
House Male - Photo by Michael Pollack

House Finch Male
House Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

House Finches and Purple Finches look similar. The male House Finch looks like a sparrow with splashes of red on the head, throat, breast, and neck. The red is brightest on the forehead.

Purple Finch Male
Purple Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Purple Finch Male
Purple Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Male Purple Finches have more red on their head and back and much less streaking. The red feathering is the color of raspberries and is a different shade than the red on a House Finch. The Purple Finch has a roundish head, while the head of a House Finch looks flatter.

House Finch Female
House Female - Photo by Michael Pollack

House Finch Females
House Females - Photo by Ashley Bradford

The female House Finch looks like a very streaky sparrow with a slightly larger bill. Her upper mandible looks rounded. A key to identifying her is that she has no key fieldmarks that stand out.

Purple Finch Female
Purple Female - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Purple Finch Female
Purple Female - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Female Purple Finches look like a smaller version of a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, with a much smaller bill. She is a streaky brown bird with a prominent face pattern. She has a white line over the eye and a lower white line that forms a border around her dark cheek. Her upper mandible is not as curved as on a House Finch.

Yellow House Finch
Yellow House Male - Photo by William Higgins

Sometimes, House Finches can have yellowish rather than red feathers, as is the case with Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers, and other species with red plumage.

Vocalizations

Both the House Finch and Purple Finch sing long and lively songs. The House Finch's song includes harsh, burry notes, and it often ends on these notes. The song of the Purple Finch is sweeter and does not contain harsh notes. Both species sing a lot. You can hear House Finches singing in downtown Washington and in many other areas where there are a lot of people. Purple Finches are usually birds of the woods.

Hear the song of the Purple Finch.
Hear the song of the House Finch.

Notes

House Finches are now one of the most widespread species in North America, with some estimates of their population exceeding a billion individuals. They are native to the western United States. Because they are a seed-eating species who sings a lot, they became popular as cage birds during the early part of the 1900s. People illegally trapped them and shipped them to the eastern United States, where they were sold in pet shops and department stores. An activist named Richard Pough saw these birds being sold in New York and knew what they were, so he began to report the sellers to the authorities. When word got out about possible prosecution, many sellers opened the cage doors and let the evidence fly away. The released birds greatly expanded their eastern range in the ensuing decades. A range map for the species shows a barren strip down the center of the US, with the native population to the west and the non-native population to the east. During the mid-1990s, many people noticed that some of the House Finches coming to their feeders had something wrong with their eyes. The birds were afflicted with Mycoplasmal Conjunctivitis, a bacterial disease known to infect poultry. The disease has been a problem only in the eastern half of the United States and has not affected the native western population of House Finches.

Origin of Names

Common Names: Purple from their plumage. House because they are commonly found near houses. Finch from the German fink, which sounds like the call of a finch.
Genus Name: Haemorhous means "blood rump".
Species Names: Purpureus is Latin for "crimson" — the ancient Romans did not have a word for purple. Mexicanus means "of Mexico", even though Mexico is only a small part of the House Finch's range.

Purple Finch video footage
House Finch video footage

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