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Purple Finch

Monday, February 17, 2020


Purple finches are not all that rare. The Cornell link tells me that they frequent my part of the world year round. Ordinary birds (like ordinary golden retrievers!)

And yet . . . I don't see them very often. And I'm always delighted when I do!!

Roger Tory Peterson's classic "A Field Guide to the Birds" was my earliest bird book. My parents owned it when I was a child. It was first published in 1934 and at some point I got a 42nd edition which has travelled with me for a lot of years.

Plate 55 is the illustration of the purple finch, both male and female. He says there it's "Rosy, size of Sparrow".

But it's his text description of the male on page 165 which really sticks in my mind: "Purple is hardly the word; raspberry or old rose is more like it . . . like a Sparrow dipped in raspberry juice". The Cornell description actually references raspberry too: although without crediting RTP who perhaps did not himself originate it.

The female accompanying the male was as RTP describes, "a heavily striped brown sparrow-like bird with a broad whitish line over eye". I saw her first, a bit larger than our female gold finches and stripier and browner rather than olive: and then I waited hopefully for the male. He's not as red as he'll become when in full breeding plumage but most definitely brightest on his head and rump. There was the faintest tint of the rose on the female's rump too.

It was quite wonderful to see them both together on my bird feeder: and they made repeated return visits (not my picture . . . but very similar to what I saw).

Their song is marvellous too . . . somewhat akin to the (related evening grosbeak) tiny bell chime effect. And: they were very appreciative of our hulled sunflower/chopped peanut mix.

Yesterday was the first day we'd had a lot of birds back to the feeders after the deep chill -25C on Thursday. Chickadees, juncos, gold finches, red breasted nuthatches, white breasted nuthatches. I did see some birds that had succumbed to that cold . . . sadly. Including a gold finch. And considered whether I should try to pick it up and warm it inside . . . but decided that no, if it was not in fact dead then nature has its rhythms and seasons and anything I could do was quite likely simply to terrify or harm more . . .

Incidentally, feisty Henry definitely appreciated all that partisan support on yesterday's blog about Daniel . . .but I was mostly tongue-in-cheek!! Although I love ordinary common garden variety golden retrievers I know full well that everyone loves the dog they have the very most, and that's just as it should be!!
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