With their similar colors and patterns, House Finches and Purple Finches are hard to differentiate.
In this article, we’re going to explain the differences between House and Purple Finches and give you some surefire ways to tell them apart.
Let’s dive right in.
Overview of the House Finch
The House Finch is a delightful and vibrant bird that you can find across the U.S. from the East Coast to the West Coast.
They’re spotted as far north as southern Canada and as far south as Mexico.
This member of the finch family boasts a bright red coloring on the head and upper body, making it an attractive sight amidst the foliage.
For the most part, they have no need to migrate, though some eastern House Finches will migrate southward in the winter.
But in general, they’re a year-round sight for bird watchers.
You’l see these birds closer to human settlements, such as residential areas or parks. They are attracted to bird feeders and are often a favorite visitor at many backyard bird feeders.
Consuming seeds, insects, and various plants, their diet further showcases their adaptability to different environments.
Read Next: Cassin’s Finch vs House Finch
Overview of the Purple Finch
The Purple Finch is a beautiful bird species that can be found in certain areas of North America.
You might spot these birds in dense forested areas along the West Coast of the U.S. into southern Canada as well as the American Northeast in breeding seasons.
Purple Finches are erratic migrators, spending winters in central and southeastern U.S. in the winter.
These relatives of the House Finch have deep reddish purple shades covering their crown, nape, back, chest, cheeks, and flanks.
Generally, they also sport heavy streaks and defined head markings.
They like wooded areas, both forest interiors and edges, as well as semi-open areas like fields and suburban environments.
Like House Finches, Purple Finches will happily come to your bird feeder.
What’s the Difference Between a Purple Finch and a House Finch?
It can be challenging to separate these two red finches due to their similar size and appearance, but there are some key differences that can help you tell them apart.
House Finches typically display orangey-red shades while Purple Finches showcase a darker pink or rosy hue. This accounts for the males—the females of both species have streaky brown plumage.
The vibrant strawberry-red color of male House Finches is concentrated mostly on the head and chest.
In contrast, the male Purple Finch showcases its purple-red raspberry or cranberry hues on most of its body—covering its head, crown, face, and nape, and spreading across its back, chest, and flanks.
Because of the difference between the males’ coloration and concentration on different body parts, it’s generally easier to tell the male House Finch from the male Purple Finch than it is to tell the female House Finch from the female Purple Finch.
Another noticeable difference between these two birds is the wing bars.
You can see somewhat indistinct white bars on the House Finch’s wings when perched, but Purple Finches have obviously rosy-reddish wing bars.
Both genders of House Finches have dark brown streaking on their lower bellies and undertail coverts.
Purple Finches, however, lack this dark brown streaking, or it’s barely noticeable. Theirs is generally white and unmarked.
Diving deeper into the physical features, both birds share a thick, conical bill for seed-cracking, but House Finches have a slightly smaller bill compared to the Purple Finch.
Moreover, the House Finch’s bill is a bit curved, while the Purple Finch’s bill has a straight edge.
Besides the length difference, you may be able to see that the bodies of House Finches are more slender, while Purple Finches are more stout and chunky.
You’ll notice that House Finch males and females have streaked bellies, flanks, and backs.
Male Purple Finches, however, display a blurrier, lighter pattern on the chest and flanks, making it more obvious which species you’re observing.
Female House Finch vs Purple Finch Female
First of all, female Purple and House Finches don’t have the red hue that characterizes their male counterparts.
The female birds are streaky brown and white.
And while they’re not as easy to tell apart at first glance as the male birds, there are differences in their markings if you look closely.
Female Purple Finches showcase heavier streaking and well-defined head markings with a clear white eyebrow.
Looking at female House Finches, you’ll see blurrier, less distinct streaking on the belly and more plain facial markings than on the female Purple Finch.
In terms of habitat, House Finches are largely non-migratory and live throughout most of the mainland United States, while Purple Finches have a more particular range.
The Purple Finch can be found year-round in the northeastern U.S. and along the West Coast, in southern Canada during breeding season, and from northern to central and southeastern U.S. states in non-breeding seasons.
So you’ll see them in different locations at different times of year.
House Finches prefer urban and suburban environments, where they can be spotted around bird feeders, parks, and gardens.
And while Purple Finches are not shy of backyard bird feeders, they tend to inhabit more woodland areas.
When it comes to the diets of House Finches and Purple Finches, there are some notable differences.
House Finches are primarily seed eating birds, feasting on various plants, fruits, and leaf buds. Although they’re particularly fond of sunflower seeds and thistle seeds at bird feeders.
On the other hand, Purple Finches have a more varied diet.
While they do enjoy seeds and fruits, they also feed on insects like beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and aphids to supplement their nutrition.
(Note: House Finches will eat some small insects like aphids, but not as regularly as Purple Finches.)
In fact, the Purple Finch’s taste for insects makes them a valuable asset to gardeners, as they help to control unwanted pests.
In the wild, both House Finches and Purple Finches can be seen foraging on the ground or perching amidst trees and shrubs, searching for food.
While both species are primarily seed eaters, they will nibble on various other food sources too, depending on their location and seasonal availability.
Bird Songs and Calls
House Finches and Purple Finches produce similar songs, but their distinctive call notes can help you identify them.
The Purple Finch’s call, a “Pik” or “Tek” sound, is softer when compared to the House Finch’s sharp “Cheep-Cheep” call.
As for the songs, both species produce warbling sounds, but Purple Finch songs are more musical than House Finches’.
House Finches prefer to build their nests in more urban settings, such as on building ledges or in hanging planters right outside your home. They typically use small twigs, grass, and leaves to create their nests.
A bit more reclusive, Purple Finches prefer to nest in coniferous or mixed deciduous woods a good distance away from humans, usually choosing tree branches or shrubs to build their nests in.
They’ll also use materials like grass, twigs, and leafy matter for their nests, but might also snatch up moss and other readily available materials.
Are House Finches and Purple Finches the same size?
House Finches and Purple Finches are of similar size, but there are some differences.
Purple Finches are slightly larger with a larger wingspan and somewhat more muscular build. They also have larger heads and necks relative to the rest of their bodies compared to House Finches.
How rare is a Purple Finch?
Purple Finches are not rare overall, but their numbers can vary depending on their location and the time of year.
They’re more widespread in the eastern U.S. during the non-breeding season but become less common as you move west.
How rare is a House Finch?
House Finches are quite common birds across the United States. They’ve adapted well to urban and suburban environments, and their numbers are generally stable.
Thus, they are not considered rare.
Do Purple Finches use birdhouses?
If you’re hoping to attract Purple Finches to your birdhouses, you may have some difficulty as these birds prefer to nest in places like tree limbs and shrubs.
However, they’ll be more tempted if you provide a birdhouse with a small enough entrance hole to block predators.
Are House Finches good to have around?
Bird watching enthusiasts tend to like having House Finches around for their beautiful colors and readiness to visit bird feeders.
They may also be of some benefit to your garden as they will consume at least some aphids that may plague your plants.
Benefits aside, House Finches can sometimes be a tad aggressive toward other bird species when it comes to protecting food and nesting resources.
House Finch vs. Purple Finch vs. Cassin’s Finch
These three finch species can be challenging to differentiate due to their similar appearances.
While colors can range quite a bit, House Finches generally have the most orangey-red hue, while Purple Finches have dark pinkish-purple hue, and Cassin’s Finches display a raspberry-red color.
To further tell them apart, observe their body shapes, beak sizes, and specific markings on their faces and bodies.
Read Also: Cassin’s Finch vs House Finch