Rare visitor

This is a Purple Finch. I’ve only seen this species at our property twice before. Autumn 2020 I filmed a female (which has no purple markings and looks quite similar to a female House Finch) and February 2021, during the Polar Vortex event which brought in many less common birds to the feeder near the house (such as the Fox, White-throated and American Tree sparrows.)

The male Purple Finches look quite similar to male House Finches – of which there are many that visit our feeder, daily. So, I was surprised that, from across my office while merely glancing through the French doors, I noticed this bird. He was picking at seeds along with a few House Finches. The lighting wasn’t great, as it was snowing that day. Still, I was able to snap a few decent shots of this lovely guy.

Before I actually saw a Purple Finch, when I saw a brightly colored House Finch I considered that it might be the more rare Purple Finch. But, once I saw my first Purple Finch, I understood the difference much better. The main difference is the hue, with Purple Finches having a richer, deeper color and the House Finch described as having a more orange-red tint. But, hey when you only see one bird, color isn’t a great distinguishing factor. However, the Purple finch’s rich, Merlot-like color travels down the back on the wings and the Purple finch lacks pronounced streaking under the wings that defines the House Finch.

Curiously, I was able to capture both species side-by-side. The House Finch is the bird in front:

Also, taken that same day, here’s the back of a House Finch. It’s easy to see that the red doesn’t travel down the back or onto the wings. But, that red just above the tail feathers used to get me excited that I may have just spotted a Purple Finch. Can you understand why, as a newbie bird watcher, I was confused?

HOUSE FINCHES (male’s back showing very little red color on the wings and Female & Male together)

Compare the House Finch to this Purple Finch:

I’m thrilled that this little bird caught my attention and I was able to get these photos out my office window!

4 Comments on “Rare visitor

    • Thank you. Yes, it’s helpful that we operate our business from our home! I intentionally set up my desk facing the doors, which are glass, so I can see nature even when I’m working!

  1. Hi Tammie, Thanks for putting the photos and descriptions together. The distinction between the house find and purple finch is something that I struggle with. I don’t really do well with slight color differences. Getting the two in one shot is amazing!

  2. Hi Mark. Once I knew about the Purple Finch, I really wanted to see one and I probably ‘thought’ I had seen one a half dozen times only to be set straight by an expert birder who told me it was, alas, just a House Finch. I had the same experience with the Fox Sparrow (another less common bird) that I routinely confused with a Song Sparrow – again, until I finally saw and filmed a Fox sparrow. I also struggled when the Pine Siskins came much farther south than normal last winter. They sit in-between Goldfinches and female House Finches in appearance, at least to me, and I really confused them quite often. There’s a reason for diversity within a species but it can cause blurred lines for someone like me who considers herself very much still a newbie birder. Thank you for your feedback.

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