Sparrow Dipped In Raspberry

Male Purple Finch By William McReynolds

This “sparrow dipped in raspberry juice” is a local from December to May.

The Purple Finch, the state bird of New Hampshire, is a seasonal resident of the Highlands Plateau during winter months as flocks migrate to the Southeastern U.S. from Canada.  

 Larger than an American Goldfinch and White-breasted Nuthatch, the female Purple Finch is brown and white with bold streaks on her head, breast and belly, a white “brow” above the eyes and lower moustachial markings. 

The male, described by Roger Tory Peterson as a “sparrow dipped in raspberry juice,” has a reddish wash over its head, back and wings.  Both have distinctive notched tails and triangular bills.  There are slight differences between the eastern and western subspecies of this finch and the Purple Finch is not to be confused with a House Finch.

Their habitat is mixed and coniferous woodlands.  During the summer Purple Finch feed on seeds, insects, berries, and buds high in the trees.  In winter they forage lower in the forest, searching for seeds, competing with other ground feeders. 

Their breeding grounds are in Canada, California and the northeastern U.S. ranging from Minnesota to West Virginia.  They build their nests on horizontal branches and branch forks using twigs, grass, and moss, creating well-shaped cups that are lined with animal hair and fine grass.  The female lays and incubates four or five blue-green eggs with brown spots on the larger end.  Hatchlings appear in about 13 days, fed by both parents until they fledge about two weeks after hatching.

Sibley describes the song of the Purple Finch as hoarse and warbled: plidi tididi preete plidi tititi preer.  Others call the song simply a pleasant warble.  Their call in flight is a sharp tick.  They are often seen congregating with other finch and local birds around feeder stations offering sunflower seeds.

Happy May birding from the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society.

The mission of the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society is to provide opportunities to enjoy and learn about birds and other wildlife and to promote conservation and restoration of the habitats that support them.  HPAS is a 501 (c) (3) organization, a Chapter of the National Audubon Society.  Visit for information on membership and all activities.