I had been alerted!
First, a text from fellow naturalist Nick Stahlman about purple finches at his feeder on the east side of town. And then an email from Tiffiny Hamlin with photos taken by her husband Warren on the west side.
And then this morning a purple finch showed up at my southside location. Could it be?
Often confused with house finches that are common and here year-round, purple finches are only here some winters and in much smaller numbers. In winter plumage, both species are duller in color than in spring breeding plumage.
How do you tell them apart? One key is the shade of red. A male house finch is cherry red and the color is frontal as if a cherry pie blew up in his face. A purple finch is not Minnesota Viking purple. A better name would have been raspberry finch. And the color appears all over the top half of the body as if you had dunked the bird in a jar of Smucker's Red Raspberry Preserves. And with a name like Smucker's, it has to be good. Also look at Warren's photos and compare the purple finch's red to the cardinal's cherry red.
Also look at the streaks down the flanks under the folded wings. For a house finch these are brown, for the purple finch they are raspberry.
How do you attract them? Warren's photos hold the key. Several types of feeders offering several types of food. In winter, birds like the safety of being with other birds. So a migrant purple finch would see the activity from a distance and feel comfortable enough to fly in to eat. We always stop at the diner with the most cars parked in front.
Why safety in numbers? Look at the photos again. There is always at least one bird on guard, watching for trouble.
To make your yard more bird-friendly, visit Wild Birds Unlimited, 7240 Kingston Pike, and they can help.