Ornithological Biography/Volume 1/Purple Finch

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Ornithological Biography by John James Audubon
The Purple Finch
Purple Finch (Audubon).jpg
Song of the Purple Finch

THE PURPLE FINCH.

Fringilla purpurea, Gmel.

PLATE IV. Male and Female.


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.


Fringilla purpurea, Gmel. Syst. vol. i. p. 923 —Lath. Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 446.

Purple Finch, Fringilla purpurea, Wilson, Americ. Ornith. vol. i. p. 119, Pl. 7, fig. 4. Adult Male; and vol. v. p. 87, Pl. 42, fig. 3. Male.


Adult Male. Plate IV. Fig. 1, 2.

Bill shortish, robust, bulging, conical, acute; upper mandible with its dorsal outline a little convex, under mandible with its outline also slightly convex, both broadly convex transversely, the edges straight to near the base, where they are a little deflected. Nostrils basal, roundish, open, partially concealed by the feathers. Head rather large. Neck short, and thick. Body full. Legs of moderate size; tarsus of the same length as the middle toe, covered anteriorly with a longitudinal plate above and a few transverse scutella below, posteriorly with an acutely angular longitudinal plate; toes scutellate above, free, the lateral ones nearly equal; claws slender, arched, compressed, acute, that of the hind toe not much larger. Plumage compact above, blended beneath, wings of moderate length, third and fourth primaries longest, second and first very little shorter. Tail forked. The lateral feathers curved outwards toward the tip.

Bill deep brown above, paler and tinged with blue beneath. Iris blackish-brown. Feet and claws brown. Head, neck, breast, back, and upper tail-coverts of a rich deep lake, approaching to crimson on the head and neck, and fading into rose-colour on the belly. Fore part of the back streaked with brown. Quills and larger coverts deep brown, margined externally and tipped with red. Tail feathers deep brown, similarly margined. A narrow band of cream-colour across the forehead margining the base of the upper mandible.

Length 6 inches, extent of wings 9, beak along the ridge 512, along the gap 712, tarsus ⅔.


Female. Plate IV. Fig. 3.

The young bird so closely resembles the adult female, that the same description will answer for both. The general colour of the upper parts is brownish-olive, streaked with dark brown. There is a broadish white line over the eye, and another from the commissure of the gap backwards. The under parts are greyish white, the sides streaked with brown. The quills and tail-feathers are dark brown, margined with olive.




The Red Larch.

Larix americana, Pursh, Fl. Amer. vol. ii. p. 645. Mich. Arbr. Forest. de l'Amer. Sept. vol. iii. p. 137. Pl. 4.—Monœcia Polyandria, Linn. Coniferæ, Juss.

This species of larch, which is distinguished by its short, deciduous, fasciculate leaves, and short ovate cones, occurs in the more northern parts of the United States, and in the mountainous regions of the middle states. It attains a height of sixty feet, and a diameter sometimes of two feet. The wood is highly esteemed on account of its excellent qualities.