Bird Identification – Purple Finch – Linnet
It would seem as if the people who named most of our birds and wild flowers must have been colour-blind. Old rose is more nearly the colour of this finch who looks like a brown sparrow that had been dipped into a bath of raspberry juice and left out in the sun to fade. But only the mature males wear this colour, which is deepest on their head, rump, and breast. Their sons are decidedly sparrowy until the second year and their wives look so much like the song sparrows that you must notice their heavy, rounded bills and forked tails to make sure they are not their cousins. A purple finch that had been caged two years gradually turned yellow, which none of his kin in the wild state has ever been known to do. Why? No ornithologist is wise enough to tell us, for the colour of birds is still imperfectly understood.
Like the goldfinches, these finches wander about in flocks. You see them in the hemlock and spruce trees feeding on the buds at the tips of the branches, in the orchard pecking at the blossoms on the fruit trees, in the wheat fields with the goldfinches destroying the larvae of the midge, or by the roadsides cracking the seeds of weeds that are too hard to open for birds less stout of bill. When it is time to nest, these finches prefer evergreen trees to all others, although orchards sometimes attract them.
A sudden outbreak of spirited, warbled song in March opens the purple finch’s musical season, which is almost as long as the song sparrow’s. Subdued nearly to a humming in October, it is still a delightful reminder of the finest voice possessed by any bird in the great sparrow tribe. But it is when the singer is in love that the song reaches its highest ecstasy. Then he springs into the air just as the yellow-breasted chat, the oven-bird, and woodcock do when they go a-wooing, and sings excitedly while mounting fifteen or twenty feet above his mate until he drops exhausted at her side.