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House Finch vs Purple Finch: 5 Key Differences Explained

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The house finch and purple finch are both small birds native to North America. Both species have stunning red and brown plumage, which means they can easily be confused with each other. While it might seem like their names distinguish them, that's not the case. Purple finch is not purple, house finch is always found near houses. But don't worry, because there are some key differences, and it's easy to tell them apart once you know what to look for.

First of all, they behave very differently, one spends all their time in the flock while the other doesn't. There are also some noticeable differences in their color patterns and the shape of their beaks and tails. But that's not all, there's a lot more to learn about these beautiful finches. So join us to know all the differences between house finch and purple finch.

Comparing House Finch and Purple Finch

house sparrow vs purple finch

© AZ-Animals.com

Both house finches and purple finches are favorites for anyone with a backyard bird feeder, and it can be tricky to tell the two apart. While both house finches and purple finches are characterized by their bright red plumage, there are some distinctive markings that make them easier to tell apart. If you get a chance to look at both species, there are actually some noticeable differences between the two.

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Check out the table below for some of the key differences between house finch and purple finch.

purple finch house sparrow
Place Canada and the Northeastern United States Native to western North America, introduced into the eastern United States and Hawaii
Habitat coniferous and mixed forests Cities and suburbs, deserts, grasslands, streamsides, coniferous forests
span 10 inches 9.5 inches
color Males – dark red with brown wings Females – brown with white stripes Male – red breast, brown back, lighter stripes blurring the two colors Female – taupe, with fuzzy stripes on belly
head Male – redheaded female – with distinct white markings above the eyes Male – gray cheeks, red forehead and throat Female – normal head, no obvious markings
Tail short notch slightly notched
bill large, not bent small, curved maxilla
figure stocky body smaller and thinner than purple finch
Behavior territory and solitude society not territory
in groups only in winter Live in groups all year round
Egg round, no spots Tip and Spot Appearance
diet seeds, berries, insects Grains, seeds, berries, small insects
predator Adult owl, merlin, kestrel, bluebird, cat eggs and chicks – squirrels, grackles, jays Adult cat, cooper's hawk eggs and chicks – bluebird, crow, raccoon, mouse, skunk, snake

5 Key Differences Between House Finch and Purple Finch

House Finch vs Purple Finch: Size

Male purple finch perched on a feeder on a green background
The purple finch is sturdier and larger than the house finch

©Steve Byland/Shutterstock.com

One of the differences between house finch and purple finch is body size. The purple finch is slightly larger than the house finch, with a wingspan of up to 10 inches. Their bodies are stocky, and their heads and necks are often larger than their bodies. Purple finches are 4.5 to 6.3 inches long, and they weigh between 0.6 and 1.1 ounces.

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House finches are slightly smaller, with wingspans of up to 9.5 inches. Their bodies are smaller and thinner than purple finch. House finches are 5 to 6 inches long and weigh between 0.5 and 0.95 ounces.

House Finch vs Purple Finch: Habitat

While their ranges do overlap, in general house finches and purple finch prefer different habitats. House finches live in cities and suburbs as well as in deserts, coniferous forests, grasslands and streamsides.

Purple finches prefer sparsely populated areas, so they are much less likely to be found in urban areas than house finches. Purple finch generally lives in coniferous and mixed forests. However, in areas where their range overlaps with house finches, purple finches are occupied by them about 90 percent of the time. Their population actually dropped dramatically in the East because of this competition.

House Finch vs Purple Finch: Bill

Although house finches and purple finches are primarily herbivorous seed eaters, they actually have very different beaks. The house finch has a small bill with a pronounced curve in the upper jaw, giving it a bulbous shape, while the purple finch has a longer and straighter bill. Since it has no curves in its upper part, it looks more like a triangle.

House Finch vs Purple Finch: Colors

You could be easily forgiven for thinking that the purplish finch is purple in color, but it's not. In contrast, males are dark red all over, with a red head and brown wings, while females are brown with white stripes all over their bodies. Most distinctive, however, are their faces, as they have distinct white markings above their eyes.

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Male house finches also have red plumage, but this is mostly confined to the chest, forehead and throat. On the rest of their body, they have a brown back with lighter stripes that blur the two colors. They also have gray cheeks. Female house finches are gray-brown in color with fuzzy stripes on the abdomen. Their heads are flat and have no obvious markings.

House Finch vs Purple Finch: Behavior

Introduction to House Sparrow
House finches are very social, living in flocks of hundreds throughout the year.

©Brian A Wolf/Shutterstock.com

Purple finch and house finch also behave quite differently. House finches are social birds and are not territorial. They are almost always found in groups of anywhere from a few to hundreds. House finches even stick together when nesting, as flocks tend to build nests close together. In these flocks, however, house finches exhibit hierarchical behavior, with females dominating males.

In stark contrast to house finches, purple finches only live in flocks during the winter, while the rest of the year they are territorial and solitary. In winter, they can be found in flocks of up to 200 birds, not only purple finches but several other finches as well. However, once the breeding season arrives, they can become extremely territorial. Therefore, purple finches are usually found alone or in pairs for the rest of the year.

FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are house finches and purple finches the same family?

Yes, both house finches and purple finch belong to the family of true finches , Fringillidae . They also come from the same genus – blood finch – the American rosefinch. As its name suggests, the American Suzaku is characterized by its red plumage and is found throughout North America. The only members of the genus are the house finches, purple finches, and cassing finches.

Do house sparrows and purple finch migrate?

Purple finches are migratory birds, migrating during the winter when they live in flocks. House finches are a bit different because only some of them migrate. Migration depends on where they live – eastern house finches do not migrate, but western house finches migrate south in winter.

Are house finches and purple finches considered endangered species?

No, neither species is threatened and is considered "least concern".

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Male house finch trying to grab food from female mouth, two birds in feeder

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about the author


For many years, I have been writing professionally, with an emphasis on animals and wildlife. I love spending time outdoors, and when I'm not writing I'll be found on a farm surrounded by horses, dogs, sheep and pigs.

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