Migrating Finches Provide Backyard Color - Iowa Wildlife Federation

Migrating Finches Provide Backyard Color

Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.

The Iowa outdoors is full of surprises.  One of the latest occurred during early April when the state’s northern counties were inundated with colorful legions of northbound purple finches. 

Purple finches are robust, chunky birds which are most often identified by the male’s rich, wine and raspberry colored plumage.  Females, also beautiful, are adorned in a rich combination of tawny and chocolate striping.  Like most finches, purple finches are an extremely weather hardy species.  Upon leaving their Canadian breeding grounds, most spend the winter months in the central and southern U.S.  In Iowa, purple finches are sporadic visitors to backyard sunflower feeders. 

Bright wine and raspberry plumage make the purple finch a welcome visitor to backyard feeders.

With the approach of spring, finches began to return north.  Anxious to claim summer breeding territories, the males are first to migrate.  Although it is not unusual to see migrating finches visit Iowa feeders during late March and early April, this year was somewhat unique in that “much larger than usual” numbers of purple finches were reported.  Where I live at Clear Lake, peak migration occurred during the first ten days of April with numbers far exceeding any of those seen during the forty-plus years I’ve lived at that same location.  Others also noted unusually high numbers.  Purple finches are aggressive and competitive feeders.  Individual sunflower feeders rarely held more than six or eight birds while dozens of others waited their turn on the ground or in nearby shrubbery.

Purple finches flock to a backyard feeder

Only an occasional straggler or two are still spotted at my backyard feeders.  Most purple finches have left the state and are currently winging their way to where they’ll nest and raise their young in the cool and shady pine forests of northern Canada.  

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top