Purple Finch: Barry Kent MacKay

Barry Kent MacKay was a friend of my grandfather Dr. J. Murray Speirs. (Miles)

Purple Finch (Haemorhous [Carpodacus] purpureus)

Upon first learning about the Purple Finch many people say something like, “But it isn’t purple!”.  The adult male is more a rosy-pink than purple.  If we consider that there are three primary colours, red, yellow and blue, and opposite them three secondary colours made up of a blend of two primary colours, orange (red and yellow), green (yellow and blue) and purple (blue and red) the redness of the bird is closer to the blue end of the spectrum than the yellow (orange) or even pure red (or pink when lightened).  That, I’m afraid, is the best I can do to justify what is, to me as well, an inappropriate name.  

Originally the species, in the finch family, Fringillidae, was placed in the genus “Carpodacus” which includes several very similarly coloured birds in Eurasia collectively called the rosefinches. With modern methods of examining relationships scientists determined that the three “rosefinch-like” species found here in the western hemisphere are not particularly closely related to the Old World birds and placed them in their own genus, Haemorphous.  The other two are the House Finch (H. mexicanus) and the Cassin’s Finch (H. cassinii). 

Purple Finches are widely distributed in eastern North America west to the Pacific in the north, with a slightly different subspecies found in coastal regions of the U.S.  Both the other two Haemorphous finches are native to western North America but the House Finch has also been introduced into eastern North America.  While it is migratory, in the Great Lakes region where I live, and much of the New England area, one can find Purple Finches at any time of the year, and it is the State Bird of New Hampshire. In much of the eastern U.S. they are most often seen in as a wintering migrant.  All three Haemorphous species readily come to bird feeders for seeds.  And in all three the female lacks the pink-red colouration and is streaked with brown on white.

The painting is in acrylics on compressed hardboard, is approximately life-size, and measures approximately 12 X 9 inches.

Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

Studio: (905) 472 9731


31 Colonel Butler Drive

Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *