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Purple Finch

Haemorhous purpureus

Length: 6 inches Wingspan: 10 inches Seasonality: Winter
ID Keys: Compare to House Finch, with more distinct facial pattern, more uniform red on male

Purple Finch - Haemorhous purpureusA winter visitor often seen at home feeders in South Dakota.  Purple Finch populations in the East have been hard hit, first by competition with the introduced House Sparrow, and then by the introduction and spread of the House Finch in the East.  The photo on the right shows the brightly-colored male, while additional photos of both males and females can be found at the bottom of the page.


Prefers coniferous or mixed woods for breeding (outside of South Dakota).  Found in a wide variety of habitats during migration and in winter, including forest edges and openings, brushy fields, and residential areas. 


Primarily seeds in the winter, also some fruit and berries.  Will occasionally feed on insects in the summer.


Often gregarious outside of the breeding season, foraging in small flocks.  Will forage at nearly any level, from the ground up through the forest canopy.


Non-breeder in South Dakota.  In their breeding range, the nest is a small cup built of weed stems, twigs, strips of bark, and other material, lined with softer material such as grasses or animal hair.  The female lays between 2 and 7 eggs, and she alone incubates them.  When the eggs hatch, both parents help to feed the young.  The young leave the nest after about 2 weeks.


Males sing a sometimes quite long, variable song of rich warbled phrases. Purple Finches also have a tick call and other variable vocalizations.


Summers in Canada, winters in the eastern half of the U.S.  Also found in all seasons in the Northeast U.S., the Great Lakes area, and along the West Coast.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Purple Finch sightings

Similar Species:

Purple Finches are similar in appearance to other small finch species that can be found in South Dakota.

House Finch 1 - Haemorhous mexicanus House Finch 2 - Haemorhous mexicanus Cassin's Finch - Haemorhous cassinii Pine Siskin - Carduelis pinus
House Finch (male) House Finch (female) Cassin's Finch Pine Siskin

Bird Feeders:

Purple finches will readily attend feeders for sunflower seeds and millet, with sunflower seeds generally their preferred food. I've also had them at my niger seed feeder on occasion.

Conservation Status:

There are undoubtedly declines in the Eastern United States due to competition with House Sparrows and House Finches.  Records from Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count both are indicative of a population decline. However, they are still relatively common and widespread, and the IUCN lists the Purple Finch as a species of "Least Concern".

South Dakota "Hotspot":

Purple Finches are very unpredictable winter visitors in South Dakota, and it's difficult to highlight a specific place where they can reliably be found. They are more commonly seen in the northeastern part of the state, and are rare in the west. The two types of places I have seen them are 1) natural areas with conifer trees, preferably, spruce, and 2) near feeder complexes. 

Further Information:

Photo Information:

November 15th, 2007 - Big Sioux Recreation Area near Brandon, South Dakota

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Purple Finch photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the range map for a higher-resolution view 
Purple Finch - Species Range Map
South Dakota Status: Irregular winter visitor in the eastern part of the state, common to absent, most common in the northeastern part of the state.  Rare in the western part of the state.

Additional Purple Finch Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos

Purple Finch 1 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 2 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 3 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 4 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 5 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 6 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 7 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 8 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 9 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 10 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 11 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 12 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 13 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 14 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 15 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 16 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 17 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 18 - Haemorhous purpureusPurple Finch 19 - Haemorhous purpureus