For those birdwatchers who have time on their hands and industrious elves to help with holiday preparations, this is a good time to hone bird identification skills. The birds that call your garden home year-round, and the birds that come south for the winter will flock to the feeder, which facilitates bird watching. Even on a cold, frosty day, if the feeders are visible from the kitchen window, one can observe these ornithological creatures in the cozy kitchen while sipping a cup of tea.

Ah, but bird identification is not always easy, especially when it comes to the Purple Finch and the House Finch. Upon a cursory glance, these two finches look remarkably alike. However, with a discerning eye, attention to detail, and careful observation, one can differentiate between the two species. Yes, birdwatching can sometimes be a challenge, so keep your trusty field guide and binoculars handy.

To thoroughly flummox the novice birder, the Purple Finch is not purple. It is the color of a lovely old rose or to quote Roger Toy Peterson, it “looks like a sparrow that has been dipped in raspberry juice.” The House Finch is more of an orange-red. The male House Finch will have dark stripes on its sides. The male Purple Finch will not have the stripes, will be a more uniform rose-red, and it will be a little bit larger than the House Finch.

Identification of the male finches is not easy, but, as so often happens in nature, the males are brightly colored, which does help things a little; whereas, the females look like plain, little brown sparrows. The female Purple Finch will have a prominent dark jaw stripe and a light stripe behind the eye. The female House Finch will not possess these markings.

The House Finch is a year-round resident here in Mississippi, but it is more visible in the winter when it visits feeders with great regularity. On the other hand, the Purple Finch is a bird that breeds in northern Canada that comes south for the winter. And so, in the winter, the two species of finches are at the bird feeders simultaneously and present an ornithological challenge that sometimes confuses even the most experienced birdwatcher. When it comes to these two finches, the word doppelgänger comes to mind. Do not be frustrated. If nothing else, you have increased your vocabulary!

It is now December, and it is indeed time to “deck the halls with boughs of holly,” but take the time to replenish the feeders for our feathered friends. The Purple Finch, the House Finch, and a myriad other birds will visit the feeders, adding color, and movement, and bringing joy to the landscape. And amid the hustle and bustle of the season, find time for a little birdwatching, and do not let the finches fluster you!

“Joy to the world……Let heaven and nature sing.”

THE EARTH LADY by Margaret Gratz appears once a month in the Daily Journal.

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