Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Purple Finch - Haemorhous purpureus
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General Comments The Purple Finch is one of the several "winter finches" that birders eagerly wait in anticipation to arrive in fall. However, this boreal forest species has declined in the past few decades, and wintering numbers in the East and Southeast have been noticeably smaller. In the 1960's and 1970's, moderate to large numbers appeared in most winters, but in the past decade or two, it has often been scarce, though every few winters it appears as a fairly common or common species. Purple Finches nest in southern Canada and the northern United States, as far south in the Appalachians to Virginia; however, there is as yet no evidence that the species nests in North Carolina. Thankfully, in winter it can appear all across the state, favoring moist hardwood or mixed forests with suitable seeds (Sweetgum, Tuliptree, etc.) high in trees. But, they also frequently appear at bird feeders, consuming sunflower seeds.

NOTE: The species was moved from the genus Carpodacus to the genus Haemorhous in 2012.

Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S3N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident; declining. Generally uncommon and irruptive across the region; can be somewhat rare in a given winter season, and uncommon to fairly common in the next; seldom common in recent decades. Mainly mid-Oct to mid-Apr. The earliest arrival date is 10 Sep and latest departure date is 1 Jun. Peak counts: 25, on feeders in Halifax on 28 Feb 2009 [Chat 73:75-76 link].
Piedmont Winter resident; declining. Formerly fairly common, on average -- uncommon in some winters and often common in others, but in recent decades mainly uncommon (to fairly common) and irruptive; typically most numerous in Mar. Mainly mid- or late Oct to mid-Apr. The earliest arrival date is 4 Sep and the latest departure date is 27 May. However, Pearson et al. (1959) report the species noted at Raleigh on the extremely early date of 7 Aug. Peak counts:
Mountains Winter resident, but declining; possible summer resident (at least formerly). Generally uncommon and irruptive; formerly fairly common to occasionally common. No summer records of potentially breeding birds have been published in The Chat, though Simpson (1992) says "rare and erratic in summer on Roan Mountain, Grandfather Mountain, and at Pecks Corner in GSMNP [Great Smoky Mountains NP]". In addition, "An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee" (Robinson 1990) gives three summer season records for Roan Mountain (which straddles the state line) -- 1-15 Jul 1962, 12 May - 7 Jul 1963, and 16-19 Jun 1977. Mainly mid-Oct to mid-Apr. The earliest arrival date is 8 Sep and the latest departure date is 17 Jun [Chat 69:171 link]. Peak counts: an amazing 800 migrating through Black Balsam Gap (Haywood) on 31 Oct 1983 [Chat 48:63 link].
Finding Tips This species can be difficult to find in some winters, and late winter (Feb or Mar) is usually best. The "tic" call note is usually the best way to find them, often feeding high in trees such as Sweetgum or Tuliptree, along a bottomland. However, they often can be seen at feeders.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-28], LeGrand[2022-12-23], LeGrand[2013-12-14]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.