As a wildlife photographer living in Arkansas, I often have both House Finches and Purple Finches visiting my backyard feeders. While the females and juveniles of these two species can be tricky to differentiate, the adult males have some key differences that allow me to tell them apart.
When it comes to coloration, the House Finch male has a reddish-orange hue, while the Purple Finch boasts a more reddish-purple shade. However, color intensity can vary quite a bit among individuals, so it’s important not to rely on color alone for identification.
One good plumage clue is that House Finches have color just along their eyebrows, but Purple Finches have that reddish color extending to their entire crown, nape, back, chest, and flanks. House Finches show streaking on their undersides, while Purple Finches display bolder stripes instead.
Facial patterns also help – female Purple Finches have bright white markings above each eye that really stand out. Female House Finches are mostly brown, though some white feathers show through on their sides and back.
Body shape differs too. House Finches tend to be slimmer and more slender overall, while Purple Finches can look stocky and large-headed in comparison. Purple Finches are also a bit bigger in size than their House Finch cousins.
Finally, calls and songs provide helpful identification cues. The House Finch has a loud, long chirping call that rises in pitch. The Purple Finch makes a very soft, flat “pik” sound by comparison.
When you take into account all these subtle differences – color, plumage, facial patterns, body shape, and vocalizations – it becomes much easier to distinguish the adult male House and Purple finches that visit my feeders and enliven my photographs. Being able to identify species accurately is so rewarding as a wildlife photographer. I hope these tips help others to tell apart these two handsome birds.
Steve Creek, Wildlife Photographer