What is the State Bird of New Hampshire? (And Why?)

New Hampshire is the 5th smallest state by area and the 41st most populous in the United States. There is a mixture of landscapes spread across the state including, lakes, mountains, coastal areas and woodland. This diverse geography attracts an abundance of wildlife and bird species. The state animal for New Hampshire is the White Tail Deer, but what is the state bird.

The state of New Hampshire chose the Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus) as the state bird in 1957. Males are a striking mixture of reds and pinks, whereas females are brown and much more sparrow-like. Purple finches live in the state during all seasons except winter. Like many migratory birds, it flies south to escape the harsh winter temps and snow of northern states like New Hampshire.

The state bird for New Hampshire, the Purple Finch

The state bird for New Hampshire, the Purple Finch

Why is the purple finch the state bird for New Hampshire?

Nature groups, including the Audubon Society of New Hampshire, the State Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the New Hampshire Federation of Garden Clubs, joined together to have the bird named the state bird. Nature groups that supported the finch fought in front of them because some of the legislators favored the crow or blue jay. Those birds remain in the state year-round.

When did the purple finch become the state bird for New Hampshire?

The state of New Hampshire legislature adopted the purple finch as the state bird on April 25, 1957. The bird won a legislative fight between it and the New Hampshire hen, which also had a state legislator backing it. The finch managed greater support and the legislator who liked the hen had their bill pigeon-holed. New Hampshire doesn’t share its state bird with any other state.

Female Purple Finch

Female Purple Finch

What does the state bird of New Hampshire look like?

The name confuses people because most of these finches are not actually purple. Their feathers contain red and pink hues. The males of the species have a head and breast of light pink with red, while the females feature no red. Their back feathers are brown in color, with white stomachs. Some members of the species do have some purple feathers that grow on their wings. Due to their coloring variations, they often get confused with house finches, which have yellow in their color combos.

Both genders grow to about 4.7 to 6.3 inches in length. They don’t weigh more than most other birds though, at a median range of between 0.60 to 1.1 ounces. They have a wingspan of 8.7 to 10.2 inches.

Purple Finch mates perched on a branch

Purple Finch mates perched on a branch

How do these birds behave?

During the breeding season, these birds become exceedingly territorial. They spend their time either alone or in their breeding pair. Until they couple, the male of the species sings almost constantly in an attempt to attract a mate. A purple finch call sounds like “pik” or “tek.”

The purple finch competes for territory with the house finch. The purple variety prefers orchards, evergreen forests, and parklands. They’ve been losing territory to house finches, so you’re most likely to see a purple finch in the forest. They don’t settle in towns any longer.

Do purple finches form communities?

The only time a purple finch bothers with other birds is during winter. They flock during the coldest months to improve food location and predator protection. Once spring rolls around, the purple finch returns to its solitary, territorial existence, happily choosing to mate and have a family.

The purple finch forms couples and builds a nest, then breeds chicks. The males of these birds go to great lengths to attract appropriate mates. During mating season, the male of the species performs for the female that he wants to couple up with. He does a mating dance comprised of hopping, chest-puffing, and tail cocking. This little bird can hop six to 12 inches while singing.

Purple Finch couple

Purple Finch couple

These love birds couple when the female has seen enough of the male showing off. She accepts his proposal, and he brings an offering of nest materials. She will ultimately choose the majority of the materials, and like many avian species, the female will construct the nest. She also chooses the nesting site. Their nest takes on the shallow cup shape of many bird nests. The purple finch uses rootlets, twigs, string, and grass to form its nest. The female then finds soft materials with which to line the nest, including rootlets, moss, animal fur, and horsehair. She typically chooses a conifer tree for the nesting seat.

With their home constructed, the pair copulate. The female lays three to six eggs of light blue-green with dark marks. She incubates the eggs while the male takes care of all the food acquisition. He digests it first, then regurgitates it for the female to eat.

Incubation takes about 13 days, during which time, the male guards the nest and “shops” for food. He continues to feed her and the babies once their birth occurs. They can’t leave the nest for the first 14 days of their life, so for those weeks, he forages and hunts to feed up to seven others besides himself. These purple finches may have one or two broods per season. Members of the finch family live an average of three to four years in the wild.

Purple Finches feeding from garden feeder in back yard

Purple Finches feeding from garden feeder in back yard

What do purple finches eat?

Purple finches prefer to dine on their favorites. Those favs include black oil sunflower seeds, white millet, and thistle seeds. You can attract them to your yard by putting out a bird feeder with these items in its trays.

These birds typically forage on the ground only in summer, when they dine on insects, including beetles and caterpillars. During winter, they eat only tree seeds, including the ash and elm trees. They also enjoy weed seeds and grass seeds. The finches will also dine on tree buds and small fruits and berries.

For a full guide on the diet of a house finch, check out this guide.

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