The male “red” finches (purple, Cassin’s and house) are a challenge to my amateur identification skills. The females and juveniles of these species all look so much alike I do not even try to identify them. To me the females are, as my English war bride aunt called them, dickey birds, also known as LBJs (Little Brown Jobs). Recently I photographed a red finch sitting in a willow along the entrance road to Baum Lake (Shasta County CA). Close examination of the photographs lead me to believe it is a purple finch (Haemorhous purpureus).
Male purple finches are not purple, but rather have a rose red body with a brownish back. The lower belly is white with wide, blurry streaks. There are faint pink bands across the wings and the undertail is white without distinct streaking. Females and juveniles are basically brown with coarse white streaking on whitish underparts.
Purple finches are found in the Northeast, across Canada and the Coastal Pacific. Eastern birds migrate to lower latitudes in the winter while the western populations only retreat to lower elevations. Their diet consists of seeds, buds, berries and insects.
Male purple finches do not acquire their rosy color until the second fall. However as one-year-olds in “female-like” plumage they can sing and can breed.
Carpodacus purpureus is a synonym for the purple finch.