House Finch vs Purple Finch: How to Tell the Difference

It can be tricky to tell a house finch vs purple finch — here are the field marks and differences to look for when you see a small red finch.

Determining whether your backyard visitor was a house finch vs purple finch can often be tricky — after all, the two species look incredibly alike! Thankfully, our experts know just how to distinguish between them. Here’s what you should look out for when you see a small red finch in your backyard.

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Examples: House Finch or Purple Finch?

male house finchCourtesy Jim Gordon
Male house finch

“Is this new bird in my backyard a house finch or a purple finch,” asks Jim Gordon of Dassel, Minnesota.

Telling a house finch vs a purple finch apart is a common backyard birding challenge across much of North America. On the males, one of the first things to look for is the pattern on the sides of the body, below the wings. House finch males have dark stripes there (as seen in the photo above), while male purple finches don’t (see photo below).

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purple finch at a tray feederCourtesy Rosemarie Pace
Male purple finch on a tray feeder

House finches also have a smaller beak, a slimmer body, shorter wingtips, and a longer tail than the purple finch.

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Female House Finch and Purple Finch

male and female house finch
Female and male house finch

A female house finch has a fairly plain brown face, while a female purple finch has a contrasting white eyebrow and whisker mark.

Purple Finch femaleLarry Keller, Lititz Pa./Getty Images
Female purple finches have no red plumage. They are coarsely streaked below, with strong facial markings including a whitish eyestripe and a line down the side of the throat

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14 Lynettelozinski Bbxmar22, house finch vs purple finchCourtesy Lynette Lozinski
House finch

“Is this a house finch or a purple finch?” Lynette Lozinski of St. Cloud, Minnesota asks.

Little red finches can be tricky. Purple finches and house finches are similar in appearance, as males of both have a lot of red on the head. This is a house finch. In your photo (above), the bird is perched at an angle, making it hard to discern the slimmer body, longer tail and slightly smaller bill of the house finch.

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But a good field mark here is the brown streaking along the sides and under the wings, which would be faint or lacking on a purple finch.

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Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman
Kenn and Kimberly are the official Birds & Blooms bird experts. They are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world. When they're not traveling, they enjoy watching birds and other wildlife in their Northwest Ohio backyard.