Audubon Centennial Edition  The Birds of America

Plate: 099
Cow-pen Bird
Plate: 130
Yellow-winged Sparrow
Plate: 042
Orchard Oriole
Plate: 127
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Plate: 012
Baltimore Oriole
Plate: 044
Summer Red Bird
Purple Finch
Havell Name
Purple Finch

Common Name
Purple Finch

Havell Plate No.

Paper Size
39" x 28"

Image Size
11" x 14"

$ 800


Ornithological Biography

From the beginning of November until April, flocks of the Purple Finch, consisting of from six to twenty individuals, are seen throughout the whole of Louisiana and the adjoining States. They fly compactly, with an undulating motion, similar to that of the Common Greenfinch of Europe. They alight all at once, and after a moment of rest, and as if frightened, all take to wing again, make a circuit of no great extent, and return to the tree from which they had thus started, or settle upon one near it. Immediately after this, every individual is seen making its way toward the extremities of the branches, husking the buds with great tact, and eating their internal portion. In doing this, they hang like so many Titmice, or stretch out their necks to reach the buds below. Although they are quite friendly among themselves during their flight, or while sitting without looking after food, yet, when they are feeding, the moment one goes near another, it is strenuously warned to keep off by certain unequivocal marks of displeasure, such as the erection of the feathers of the head and the opening of the mouth. Should this intimation be disregarded, the stronger or more daring, of the two drives off the other to a different part of the tree. They feed in this manner principally in the morning, and afterwards retire to the interior of the woods. Towards sunset they reappear, fly about the skirts of the fields and along the woods, until, having made choice of a tree, they alight, and, as soon as each bird has chosen a situation, stand still, look about them, plume themselves, and make short sallies after flies and other insects, but without interfering with each other. They frequently utter a single rather mellow clink, and are seen occupied in this manner until near sunset, when they again fly off to the interior of the forest. I one night surprised a party of them roosting in a small holly tree, as I happened to be brushing by it. In their consternation they suddenly started all together, and in the same direction, when, not knowing what birds they were, I shot at them and brought down two.

 It is remarkable that, at this season, males in full beauty of plumage are as numerous as during the summer months in far more northern parts, where they breed; and you may see different gradations of plumage, from the dingy greenish-brown of the female and young to the richest tints of the oldest and handsomest male; while along with these there are others which, by my habit of examining birds, I knew to be old, and which are of a yellowish-green, neither the colour of the young males, nor that of the females, but a mixture of all.

The song of the Purple Finch is sweet and continued, and I have enjoyed it much during the spring and summer months, in the mountainous parts of Pennsylvania, where it occasionally breeds, particularly about the Great Pine Forest, where, although I did not find any nests, I saw pairs of these birds flying about and feeding their young, which could not have been many days out, and were not fully fledged. The food which they carried to their young consisted of insects, small berries, and the juicy part of the cones of the spruce pine.

They frequently associate with the Common Cross-bills, feeding on the same trees, and like them are at times fond of alighting against the mud used for closing the log-houses. They are seldom seen on the ground, although their motions there are by no means embarrassed. They are considered as destructive birds by some farmers, who accuse them of committing great depredations on the blossoms of their fruit-trees. I never observed this in Louisiana, where they remain long after the peach and pear trees are in full bloom. I have eaten many of them, and consider their flesh equal to that of any other small bird, excepting the Rice Bunting.

This species was seen by Dr. RICHARDSON on the banks of the Saskatchewan river only, where it feeds on willow-buds. It arrives there in May, and resides during the summer. The eggs have been procured in the State of Massachusetts by my friend Dr. T. M. BREWER. They measure seven-eighths and a quarter in length, four-eighths and a half in breadth, and are thus of an elongated form, rather pointed. Their ground - colour is a bright emerald-green, sparingly marked with dots and a few streaks of black, accumulated near the apex, and some large marks of dull purple here and there over the whole surface. The following, note is from the same gentleman: --”The passage of the Purple Finch through this State on its way north, is so rapid, and the number of those that stop to breed here so small, that I can furnish nothing respecting its habits, except that there is good reason to believe the accusation which has been brought against it, of injuring the blossoms of fruit trees. Last year, the trees were in full bloom at the time this bird was migrating, and I saw them plainly clinging to the branches, and at work upon the blossoms; so that under some trees the ground was literally strewed with the result of their destructiveness, although they did not appear to feed on the blossoms.I have had the good fortune to meet with its nest and eggs this season. Mr. CABOT found another, and is probably the first naturalist who has done so. The nest which I found was built in a cedar tree, at the distance of five feet from the ground. The tree stood by itself in a small sandy pasture, which was sparingly covered with half-grown cedars. The nest itself was rudely constructed: it was composed externally of coarse grass and weeds, lined with fine roots of the same, and little care seemed to have been bestowed on its completion. The diameter of the exterior was 9 inches, the brim 3 inches, the depth 1 inch, the external depth 2 inches, giving it thus a shallow or flattish appearance. The eggs, four in number, were of a bright emerald-green.”

I have found this species from Labrador to the Texas. Mr. NUTTALL and Mr. TOWNSEND met with it on the Columbia river, and all the way to St. Louis. In South Carolina, where it appears only during severe winters, it feeds on the berries of the Virginian juniper, commonly called the red cedar; and when the berries fall to the ground, it alights to secure them. Dr. BACHMAN has kept it in aviaries, where it became very fat, silent, and only uttered its usual simple feeble note. After moulting, the males assumed the plumage of the females. The next spring a very slight appearance of red was seen, but they never recovered their original brilliancy, and it was difficult to distinguish the sexes. It breeds sparingly in the northern parts of the State of New York. In June 1837, I met with three pairs, within a few miles of Waterford, that evidently had nests in the neighbourhood.


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