Bluebird Meaning and Symbolism
You might have heard the phrase “bluebird of happiness,” and as it turns out, there’s some truth behind it. What the meaning of a bluebird sighting?
Around the world, bluebirds have a wide variety of associations and meanings, all of which carry positive connotations. Some believe the bluebird is a symbol of joy and hope; others, that good news will be arriving soon. Others still think that bluebirds represent a connection between the living and those who have passed away. Native American tribes in particular associated bluebirds with the return of spring after winter, prosperity and even fertility.
“This male eastern bluebird (above) landed on my neighbor’s fence. I thoroughly enjoy photographing birds, and I thought the blue and orange background looked really pretty and matched the bluebird quite nicely. They say bluebirds bring happiness. This one did, for me. At the time my father was in hospice, dying from Stage 4 colon cancer. This photo turned out to be the last picture of a bird that I took before my dad passed. This photo will always be extremely special to me for that reason. My dad was saying goodbye in a way I would understand… through a bird,” shares Birds & Blooms reader Nikki Debraccio.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how the bluebird meaning became the bird “of happiness.” (Psst—if you see a cardinal, here’s what it means). A popular song from 1934 titled “Bluebird of Happiness” might have something to do with it, as might a 1908 play called “The Blue Bird.” But bluebirds were associated with glad tidings in European and Native American folk tales, as well as in Chinese mythology, all of which were written long before the song. Regardless of culture or even century, bluebirds bring joy.
Here are the best bluebird feeders and feeding tips.
Bluebirds Bring Happiness
“In Canada the winters are quite long. I always look forward to the arrival of spring, and one of the earliest visitors to show up is the mountain bluebird. I love their deep blue color. It reminds me of warm summer days with blue skies,” Birds & Blooms reader Wendell Shaw says.
“Feeling a little down, I set out on a hike one morning to lift my spirits. I heard this male eastern bluebird before I saw him. He landed on a branch long enough for me to get a photo. Instantly, my blues were banished, and I smiled as I walked back down the trail,” Birds & Blooms reader Dave Weth says.
Learn how to make a DIY bluebird house.
“It was Mother’s Day Sunday, and I knew this family of eastern bluebirds was about to fledge the nest. After dinner with my mother, mother-in-law and all the family, I grabbed my camera and went out to check the nest box. As I walked toward the nest box, I noticed the parents were strangely absent. I listened closely and didn’t hear the hungry cries of the nestlings. They had fledged and I had missed it, or so I thought.
Suddenly, I caught a flash of brilliant blue. Scanning the trees, I spotted Poppa Blue and his five beautiful fledglings lined up on a tree branch several yards away. Not wanting to disturb this precious family, I froze where I stood, zoomed in as best I could, and snapped my favorite bluebird photo of all time. Just seconds after Poppa Blue fed his hungry babies, he flew off to gather more insects, and Momma Blue arrived to feed from the other end of the line. My heart was happy for so many reasons on that Mother’s Day,” Birds & Blooms reader Carla Ginn says.
Next, find out do hummingbird sightings have special meaning?
Grow Tomatoes as Sunflower Companion Plants
I love the bright and cheery look of sunflowers, and I love the taste of a homegrown tomato. Tomatoes make great sunflower companion plants. I am so happy that they go together so very well in a garden. I grow the common sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.). My plants grow quite tall, some up to 12 foot or more. Of course, I have to put stakes in to support them as they get very top heavy with their large flower heads (up to 10 inches across), especially when the sunflower seeds weigh the heads down.
Sunflowers Attract Pollinators to Tomatoes
The sunflower heads attract bees when they are producing flowers and that is great. Bees have had some major declines both in the United States and other countries. That is scary because bees—both the non-native honeybee that was imported to North America and native bees—pollinate a lot of our food crops as well as many other plants. After the seeds are on the plants, members of the finch family come to eat them. You should definitely grow sunflowers for bird seed.
I love to grow tomatoes in my garden. They are so delicious to eat, but I like the smell of the tomato plants—which is especially strong when I pinch the suckers off. These two plants have already produced about two dozen tomatoes in my garden in Colorado and have at least five dozen green tomatoes on them waiting to ripen.
Follow these tips for saving tomato seeds from your harvest
The main reason I get a lot of tomatoes from my plants is because the bees that come to drink the nectar from the sunflowers also pollinate my tomato blossoms. I plant my tomatoes right next to the sunflower patch. This allows the bees to pollinate the tomato blossoms without having far to fly from the nectar bearing flowers on the sunflower plants. They pollinate most of the tomato blossoms, so I get fruit from almost each of them.
Indeed, tomatoes make great sunflower companion plants.
Next, find out should you grow heirloom or hybrid tomatoes?
A verdin is a tiny gray bird of brush habitats, from southern Utah and southwestern Oklahoma to central Mexico. Despite being relatively common and active, like a warbler, this energetic species can be easy to miss.
What Do Verdins Look Like?
“Their coloration is so generally cryptic that it feels like a treat to spot one hopping about in the branches—and to get to see the yellow color on its head or the rust color on its shoulder,” says Jennie Duberstein, coordinator for the Sonoran Joint Venture.
According to birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman, verdins used to be classified in the same family as chickadees, but new research shows that their closest relatives are certain small songbirds in Europe, Asia and Africa.
Visit Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona, to get a good look at verdin.
Check out 25 small yellow birds you should know.
What Do Verdins Eat?
Verdins dine mostly on insects. To attract the birds, Jennie has a few recommendations. “Focus on providing verdins the plants and trees with the structures and food sources they need,” she says. “In my yard they love the mesquite and paloverde trees, and they are also fans of cactus like chollas.”
Verdins construct incredible round abodes all year long, using some for nesting and others for roosting. Their homes are typically about 6 inches wide with an opening situated toward the bottom.
“These thorny globes are all-purpose houses, providing great protection from predators and extreme temperatures,” Jennie says. Verdins’ domed homes stay cooler in the summer and warmer in winter.
Male verdins stay involved and play a critical role in nest construction. The bird dads mostly set up the thorny outer structures. Females handle the interior decorating, adding a soft lining that’s usually a combo of grass and plant fibers.
Backyard Tip: In the Southwest, plant native shrubs to attract verdins for nesting and roosting, and to provide shade for them during hot summers.
Psst—this is the only bird nesting material you should put out.
What Do Juvenile Verdins Look Like?
A juvenile verdin sports an all-gray look and a bright yellow beak that dulls over time.
“I spotted this young verdin (above) on an early morning walk. I was happy it stayed around long enough for me to get a few pictures and to enjoy its beauty,” says Caroline Horowitz of Chandler, Arizona.
Check out these cute photos of baby chickadees.
The male verdin’s song is a simple tseet tsor tsor whistle. Males and females both give a loud chip call, sometimes in a rapid progression.
Until she learned to recognize their three-note whistle, Jennie didn’t realize how ubiquitous verdins were in her region. “Once I had it imprinted on my brain, I realized they were everywhere even if I couldn’t immediately see them,” she says.
Whenever she hears verdins now, Jennie looks to the trees and tries to spot them. Males do much of the singing, but during the breeding season females will occasionally sing back.
Meet the pyrrhuloxia, the desert cardinal of the Southwest.
How to Support Verdins
While verdins are still common, their population declined 60% in North America between 1968 and 2015. This rate of decline is alarming for Jennie, who didn’t grow up in the Southwest and says it’s a daily thrill to see verdins now.
The species is particularly vulnerable to habitat loss. This bird likes open habitats, and it will readily come into yards that have a few native trees and shrubs such as mesquites, acacias or palo verdes. One threat is buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare), an invasive plant that is altering fire patterns throughout much of the bird’s range.
By supplying plants that verdins rely on—and by protecting Sonoran habitats—we can all help ensure that this spirited desert specialist continues to thrive.
Discover more desert birds of the Southwest.
What Are Mason Bees?
You’ve almost certainly heard of honeybees, but what about mason bees? These docile fliers are extremely helpful in your garden, and there’s an easy way to invite them into your backyard: a bee house. Here’s everything you need to know about mason bees.
Discover fascinating bumblebee facts you should know.
Mason Bees vs Honeybees
There are more than 150 species in the mason bee group, which handled pollination here long before European honeybees arrived. Unlike honeybees that gather pollen in packages on their hind legs, mason bees collect pollen in a rather amusing fashion: They belly-ﬂop into blossoms, and the pollen clings to the hairs on their bodies. According to Thyra McKelvie of Rent Mason Bees in Bothell, Washington, they can pollinate up to 2,000 flowers per day, and each one can do the work of 100 honeybees. Impressive!
Because they’re well-adapted to the climate here, they fly in cooler temperatures and brave drizzly conditions.
Meet more beneficial bees you want in your garden.
Do Mason Bees Sting?
The busy ﬂiers are valuable in home gardens because they pollinate an array of early-blooming plants. Plus, they’re easy to raise and fun to watch. Renowned for their gentle disposition, they are suitable for families with children and are not aggressive even in close proximity. Male mason bees do not sting. And about the only way to incite a defensive sting from a female is to squeeze or step on her.
The reason for their non-aggression? They don’t have hives, so there is nothing for them to defend. Instead of using honeycomb cells, they lay their eggs in existing gaps or tunnels. A female creates a mud plug on one end, adds a loaf of pollen and nectar, then lays an egg. The next layer follows the same pattern until the tunnel is packed with eggs and sealed with more mud. Hence the name “mason” bee.
“Their life cycle is similar to a butterfly,” Thyra says. While a honeybee queen lays 1,500 to 2,000 eggs per day, a female mason bee produces only 15 in her four-to-six-week lifetime.
Discover 6 key differences between bees and wasps.
Mason Bee Cocoon
Once the eggs hatch, each larva consumes its pollen loaf and spins a silken, hardened cocoon to overwinter in. Young mason bees emerge when conditions warm in spring. The males (noted by the white tuft of fuzz on their heads) appear first, with females appearing soon after.
Discover 8 bugs you should never kill in your garden.
How Do I Attract Mason Bees to My Yard?
Creating an ideal environment for these bees is critical. According to Matthew Shepherd, director of outreach and education for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, planting native flowers is a must—and of course, avoid using pesticides in your garden. To help mason bees nest, he says you can provide nesting sites. To do this, allow a certain level of imperfection in your yard and garden. For example, they may use chambers in dead trees where birds have pecked holes to ﬁnd insects.
Psst—we found the best flowers that attract bees.
Mason Bee House
For a more direct way to add them to your backyard, you temporarily host them by ordering a bee house from Rent Mason Bees. It’s simple! You order a kit (which includes bees) to arrive in early spring. When the bees are done pollinating your yard, mail back the nesting block. Rent Mason Bees harvests, cleans and protects the cocoons over the winter and then provides bees to farmers and gardeners, who release them into their crops.
Next, learn 6 easy ways how you can help bees.
Attract Pollinators With Red Hummingbird Flowers
Red is one of the most expressive shades around, and when you add it to your garden, the results speak for themselves. While a little bit of red goes a long way, more of this bold color goes even further! Don’t be afraid to use red plants in groups of three to four. Or you might even try a monochromatic look, mixing several different red hummingbird flowers in a single container or flower bed. Red is the favorite color of hummingbirds. So with a little bit of planning, your yard could be abuzz with these amazing fliers.
Discover jaw-dropping facts about hummingbirds.
1. Red Daylilies
(Hemorocallis, Zones 3 to 10)
You’ll have blooms all summer when you plant this backyard favorite. Grow daylilies in just about any shade imaginable in full sun or partial shade. These red hummingbird flowers reach 10 inches to 4 feet tall and 1½ to 4 feet wide.
Why we love it: It’s a snap to share daylilies with friends. Divide them every three to five years to revitalize and to prevent crowding.
Check out the top 10 hummingbird plants that grow in shade.
(Aquilegia, Zones 3 to 9)
You can find columbine in just about any shade, including popular bicolored blooms. Plant in sun or shade for spring to early-summer flowers. Grows 1 to 3 feet high and 6 to 24 inches wide.
Why we love it: It’s a wonderful companion plant. Pair red-and-white columbine with blue pansies for an easy, early patriotic display.
3. Cardinal Flower
(Lobelia cardinalis, Zones 3 to 9)
There’s a reason cardinal flower was named after such a beautiful bird. The scarlet flowers light up gardens, growing up to 4 feet high and 2 feet wide. You can grow it in partial shade to full sun.
Why we love it: This beauty seems to reach out and beckon hummingbirds. Plant several in one spot, and you’re sure to see a flying jewel hovering in your garden.
(Penstemon, Zones 3 to 9)
You can grow these cheerful, colorful trumpets in full sun to light shade. Grow in well-drained soils, and most will tolerate drought conditions once established.
Why we love it: The blooms might look delicate, but they pack quite a punch, especially when you group several of them together.
Check out the top 10 purple flowers that attract hummingbirds.
5. Bee Balm
(Monarda didyma, Zones 3 to 9)
You can find newer bee balm varieties in purple, pink and white, but the classic red shade is still best at luring hummingbirds. Grows 3 to 4 feet high and up to 26 inches wide. It grows in full sun but will also tolerate afternoon shade.
Why we love it: Bumblebees, butterflies and hummingbirds just can’t resist it, and the unique shapes of the blooms add interest to any perennial bed.
We asked our readers: What plants do hummingbirds love most?
(Hibiscus species, Zones 4 to 10)
Bold, beautiful and impressive, this perennial grows up to 15 feet tall. Its huge blooms are 4 to 12 inches wide and last from early summer to the first frost. Keep this stunner in full sun and in rich, moist soil.
Why we love it: Look for tropical species of these plants to add to your favorite container display. One plant alone will add a gorgeous touch of the tropics.
(Paeonia, Zones 3 to 8)
Giant blooms in spring and early summer offer loads of sweetness for butterflies and hummingbirds. Peonies grow up to 3½ feet tall and wide. Dig and divide the rhizomes in fall.
Why we love it: You can make a big impact with just one peony plant. For a spectacular shade, try the Karl Rosenfield cultivar pictured here.
Psst—also plant some late summer and fall flowers that attract hummingbirds.
8. Coral Bells
(Heuchera, Zones 3 to 9)
Known primarily for its fabulous foliage, this tough perennial also offers distinctive bell-shaped blooms. It grows up to 3 feet high when in bloom and 24 inches wide, blooming in late spring to early summer.
Check out the top 10 tube-shaped flowers that attract hummingbirds.
9. Garden Phlox
(Phlox paniculata, Zones 3 to 8)
Garden phlox is a resilient plant that continues blooming throughout the season with the help of a little deadheading. Grow this charmer in full sun. It reaches up to 36 inches high and wide.
Why we love it: Newer varieties resist powdery mildew. Ask your local nursery for mildew-resistant picks.
Here’s how to attract hummingbirds to your small garden.
10. Oriental Poppy
(Papaver orientale, Zones 4 to 9)
Poppies always look better in bunches. Plant these ruby-red hummingbird flowers in spring, sowing the very fine seeds directly into the soil. By early summer the following year, you should see the signature fuzzy buds and cup-shaped blooms. Plants grow up to 36 inches tall.
Why we love it: When the blooms are spent, the seedpods make attractive additions to wreaths or fall arrangements.
Meet the 15 types of hummingbirds found in the United States.
More Red Hummingbird Flowers
These perennial favorites show why red is a can’t-miss color for any hummingbird bloom.
The Hot Papaya echinacea (pictured above) was introduced in 2009. It boasts spicy red-orange flowers with a pom-pom center.
Try the coreopsis Big Bang series. The crimson blooms go a long way: Just one plant should provide you with reliable color all summer long.
This drought-tough perennial most commonly comes in yellow, but now you can get red and pink hues, thanks to cultivars like Strawberry Seduction.
Next, check out hummingbird feeders and accessories your birds will love.
Tips for Growing a Clementine Tree
“I have a 15-year-old indoor clementine tree (above) that I planted from seeds. How much bigger will it get?” asks Dianna Elder of Howard, Ohio.
You obviously have mastered the proper care for this citrus plant. Clementines sold at nurseries are usually grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock so they grow only about 6 feet tall. Grown on their own, like yours, they have the potential to reach 25 feet in height.
Check out expert tips to grow an indoor avocado tree.
Since your tree is growing in less than ideal conditions for citrus, it will take quite a few years to reach that height. Prune your clementine tree in spring to help control the growth as needed. Avoid extreme pruning as that can stimulate excessive growth, requiring even more pruning the following season.
If you live in zone 8 or colder regions, you will need to bring your tree indoors before the first frost. Keep your tree near a sunny window until the weather warms up again.
Where to Buy an Indoor Clementine Tree
We found clementine trees available online at retailers like Etsy, Garden Goods Direct, Fast Growing Trees and Nature Hills Nursery. Keep in mind that these trees are young trees (not full sized) and they will continue to grow.
You can also purchase an EasyPeel Clementine tree from Fast Growing Trees. These are the sweet, easy-to-peel tiny clementines that kids love. You’ll often see these small citrus fruits sold in mesh bags at the grocery store.
The trees will produce a bountiful crop of delicious, nearly seedless fruit (clementines are usually ready to pick in November or December). And the spring blossoms will fill your home with a lovely fragrance. Another perk—these trees are resistant to diseases and insect pests, so you will not need to apply pesticides.
Note that these trees cannot be shipped to some states due to agricultural regulations.
Next, check out the top 10 dwarf fruit trees for small spaces.
You have a very small space, perhaps just a patio, yet you still want to grow shrubs. Or maybe you have a good-size yard, but it’s filled to the max. Your significant other has even made threats that start with: “If you buy one more plant, I’ll.…” Or perhaps you just like small shrubs because they’re so darn cute! It doesn’t matter what your story is: Nearly everyone can find a use for a small shrub. So many kinds are available that it may seem impossible to choose just one or two, but you’ll certainly have fun trying. Use our picks as your guide to the best small shrubs for small spaces.
Small Shrubs: Sapphire Surf Bluebeard
(Caryopteris x clandonensis, Zones 5 to 9)
Many perennials will outgrow this small shrub, which is just 2 feet tall. Grow it as an accent plant, or group several together for a bigger impact. Sapphire Surf Bluebeard blooms endlessly in full sun.
Why we love it: You can’t beat these blooms. The purplish-blue flowers are absolutely gorgeous.
Check out 10 dwarf flowering shrubs for containers.
(Cornus cericea, Zones 2 to 7)
Dogwood comes in many shapes and sizes, so consider adding a compact variety to your backyard. This Firedance cultivar is true to its name, with reddish-purple foliage in fall. It grows only 3 or 4 feet high and prefers full sun. This shrub is a good choice for moist soil, slopes and rain gardens.
Why we love it: In addition to those glowing leaves, its pretty white berries give it four-season appeal.
Don’t miss these blooming bushes that attract butterflies.
Coral Beauty Cotoneaster
(Cotoneaster dammeri, Zones 5 to 8)
With small fragrant white flowers in early summer, and coral berries in fall and winter, this low-growing small shrub shines for months. Coral Beauty (above) grows just 1 to 2 feet tall and has dense glossy, dark green foliage.
Why we love it: In addition to all that color, the birds will love the abundant berries.
Love Child Sweetspire
(Itea virginica, Zones 6 to 9)
If you’re looking to save a lot of space, look for the Little Henry sweetspire cultivar, growing just 18 to 24 inches high. For a little more height and lovely fragrant blooms, go for Love Child (above). It grows 3 to 4 feet.
Why we love it: The shape of the flowers—long 3-inch panicles—is distinctive and delightful.
Psst—here’s even more pretty flowering bushes for your yard.
Summer Crush Bigleaf Hydrangea
(Hydrangea macrophylla, Zones 4 to 9)
Some hydrangeas grow tall while others are compact, but all boast beautiful blooms. The pink Summer Crush hydrangea (above) has gardeners excited. Grow it in full sun to partial shade; this small shrub reaches between 18 inches and 3 feet tall.
Why we love it: A petite hydrangea with raspberry red blooms: Need we say more?
Psst—we found more breathtaking hydrangea species you need in your garden.
Tor Birchleaf Spirea
(Spiraea betulifolia, Zones 4 to 8)
You can find a slew of compact spirea, but this Tor cultivar (above) is one of our favorites. It starts off with bright green new growth. Then come white summer flowers, and after that the leaves turn orange, red and purple in fall.
Why we love it: Deer tend to leave it alone.
Love fall foliage? Check out the best fall shrubs to grow.
Cool Splash Dwarf Bush Honeysuckle
(Diervilla lonicera, Zones 4 to 7)
You won’t have to worry about disease or insect problems with this honeysuckle shrub. Look for the variegated cultivar Cool Splash (above). It’s very hardy, even in cold climates, and can take dry, sandy soils as well. It grows up to 4 1/2 feet tall, with variegated foliage and yellow flowers in the summer.
Why we love it: It’s similar to honeysuckle without invasive problems, and it’s a prolific summer bloomer that attracts butterflies.
Check out more alternatives to invasive shrubs.
Clethra Hummingbird Summersweet
(Clethra alnifolia, Zones 4 to 9)
This popular small shrub is known for its fragrance, shade tolerance and bright summer blooms. Most clethras grow 8 to 12 feet, but now you can have this beauty in your own small space with this compact version, which reaches only 2 to 3 feet.
Why we love it: It will tolerate some shade—ideal for gardeners with lots of dark areas in their backyard.
(Fothergilla gardenii, Zones 4 to 9)
Growing just 2 to 3 feet tall, these bushy, low-growing shrubs are striking when grouped together along a border in full sun or partial shade. Look for showy blooms in spring, green leaves in summer, and yellow, red and orange leaves in fall. Grow it in full sun to part shade, and in rich, moist, acidic soil.
Why we love it: You’ll get three-season appeal with this beautiful small shrub.
Check out the top 10 dwarf conifers for small spaces.
Lo & Behold Butterfly Bush
(Buddleia, Zones 5 to 9)
We love this dwarf noninvasive butterfly bush. Try cultivar Blue Chip. (above). It’s a very small shrub, growing only 2 feet tall and wide, making it a perfect choice for gardeners who love the blooms of butterfly bush but don’t have much space. Plant in full sun.
Why we love it: The lavender-blue flowers are heavenly, blooming from summer to frost.
Next, get expert tips on how to plant shrubs and bushes.
What Do Male and Female Western Bluebirds Look Like?
While western bluebirds look similar to eastern bluebirds, there are differences. The male usually has a patch of rusty brown across the middle of its blue back, and its throat is blue. The lower belly is gray, not white. Female western bluebirds are similar to males, but with the blue mostly replaced by gray.
Here’s how to tell the difference between a bluebird and a blue jay.
“I spotted this western bluebird (above) in flight near Ellensburg, Washington. I’ve been photographing birds for awhile now, and pictures like this are why I enjoy it!” – Birds & Blooms reader Thomas Tully
Marvel at these 20 gorgeous photos of bluebirds.
What Does a Western Bluebird Eat?
In summer western bluebirds eat mostly insects, while in winter they snack on juniper berries and the fruits of mistletoe growing from mesquite trees. In warmer months, you can invite them to visit your bluebird feeders by offering a longtime bluebird favorite: mealworms.
A western bluebird barely tips the scale at just one ounce. To keep their slim figures, they eat about 15 calories a day, or 23 if they are caring for a brood.
Nest and Eggs
Like mountain bluebirds, western bluebirds are cavity nesters. They search for a pre-existing tree cavity and once a suitable place is found, the female gathers grasses, plant fibers and other soft materials to build the nest. A typical clutch contains 2 to 8 eggs, and western bluebirds raise 1 to 3 broods per season. Western bluebirds may also choose bluebird nest boxes if available: Here’s how to build a DIY bluebird house.
Bluebirds are related to robins, so it’s no big surprise that juveniles appear different from the adults. Juvenile western bluebirds have spotted backs to match their marked bellies. The blue tint of their wings and tails also helps ID them.
Most birds mate for a breeding season or nesting period, but that kind of monogamy is less appealing to western bluebirds. Researchers discovered that 45 percent of nests held young that were not fathered by the male who defended the nest, and 19 percent of all chicks were not the defending male’s.
“I was so excited to see so many juvenile western bluebirds (above). One year, I had a bluebird couple and it was the first time I’d seen them. They came back the next year, and this was their third, and largest, bunch.” – Birds & Blooms reader Cyndi Seybold
Western Bluebird Habitat and Range Map
Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.
This species breeds in the west. It replaces the eastern bluebird in areas west of the Great Plains. In the Southwest, it’s mostly a bird of foothills and mountains. Along the Paciﬁc Coast, it lives in parks and yards. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, western bluebirds are less commonly spotted in meadows than the other two bluebird species.
Western bluebirds spend winter in various kinds of open woods. They may gather in large ﬂocks, especially in foothills with juniper berries; they also move out into desert areas.
Next, find out where is the best place for a bluebird house?
Purple finches are an absolute backyard treat but, despite their vivid-sounding name, their subdued pattern can make them difficult to spot. Roger Tory Peterson, the ornithologist and editor of the Peterson Field Guide series, once described a purple finch as a “sparrow dipped in raspberry juice.”
Don’t miss these super pretty pictures of finches.
What Do Purple Finches Look Like?
Scientific Name: Haemorhous purpureus.
Length: 6 inches.
Wingspan: 10 inches.
Distinctive Markings: Male has a raspberry-red tinge, brightest on head and rump; lighter in winter. Tail is notched. Female is brown-gray striped, with a dark cheek patch.
They’re often confused with the house finch—however, purple finches are slightly heavier birds with shorter tails and longer wingtips. Male purple finches have an almost completely red face and neck with pinkish red also covering most of the body. Purple finches and house finches don’t flock together, but they might both show up at your feeder at the same time. Here’s how to tell the difference between these finches.
In late summer, the purple finch begins to molt, and in winter plumage, a male’s reddish areas appear frosted. With wear, the whitish tinge disappears, revealing the rich breeding color.
In the West, Cassin’s finches also present an identification hurdle. They have a bright red cap, like the purple finch, but a lighter pink face, neck and upper chest.
Discover 7 types of finch birds to look for in winter.
What Do Purple Finches Eat?
Black oil sunflower seeds seem to be the food of choice for purple finches, but they also eat white millet and thistle seeds. They also feed on buds, berries, and insects.
Check out the best finch feeders to serve thistle seed.
Purple Finch Song
Listen to the purple finch’s song. This bird sings and unstructured but melodious “fridi ferdi frididifri fridi frr” song.
Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
A musical bird, the purple finch sometimes copies other birds, such as American goldfinches or eastern towhees, as they sing loudly from the treetops. But when it’s time to woo a mate, the male purple finch mellows his tune, hopping in front of the female and puffing his feathers. If she’s interested, the avian Romeo pops a foot in the air, vibrates his wings and then lands, presenting a twig or piece of grass.
Meet the rosy finch (and learn the best place to see one).
Purple Finch Nest and Eggs
Purple finches like to nest on the limbs of conifers, though in the southern part of their breeding range they might nest in an oak, maple or cherry tree. The female carefully builds a twig cup, about 7 inches across and 4 inches deep, lining it with grass, moss and animal fur in preparation for the young.
Clutches range from two to seven pale blue-green eggs with brown and black marks, each just under an inch long. It takes less than two weeks for the eggs to hatch. Afterward, both parents feed the naked, helpless chicks. The young grow quickly and fledge in another two weeks.
Watch your feeders in winter for a common redpoll.
Purple Finch Habitat and Range Map
These forest-dwelling songbirds are found mainly in the Midwest, East and along the Pacific Coast. Don’t worry if these colorful finches came to your backyard last winter but don’t show up this year. They migrate erratically. Those that breed in Canada head to the central and southern United States for the winter, while the ones that spend their summer on the Pacific Coast, around the Great Lakes and in the Northeast often don’t migrate at all, except perhaps to lower elevations. They’ll probably be back again, especially if your feeders are filled with black oil sunflower seeds. For even more advice, see our tips to attract winter birds. These birds may show up in coniferous and mixed forest, oak woodlands, parks, streamsides and residential areas.
Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.
Next, learn how to attract goldfinches to your backyard.