- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident, migrant, and winter visitant. The Purple Finch was an uncommon species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Primarily found in low densities in the northeastern and upper midwestern United States, across Canada from the Maritime Provinces to the Pacific Coast, north to northern British Columbia and northern Alberta, and south through California (Figure 1). Highest densities are found in Nova Scotia and along the Pacific Coast, especially in western Washington State.
Continental Concern Score of 9/20 by Partners in Flight; designated a Species in Greatest Conservation Need by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Short-distance migrant that over-winters throughout the eastern, southeastern, and midwestern United States and southern regions of Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario in Canada.
Omnivorous, including buds, seeds, fruits, and insects from trees, shrubs, and on the ground.
Cup-nest on a branch of a coniferous tree or a shrub.
Historically identified as “a common summer resident in the evergreen forests of the state as far south as northern Isanti and Pine counties and as far west as Itasca Park” (Roberts 1932). Roberts reported nesting activity in Aitkin (young just out of the nest), Cass (two nests, each with one egg), Cook (feeding young), Isanti (feeding young in the nest), Itasca (feeding young out of nest), and Pine (feeding young) Counties as well as the Mille Lacs area (nest with no eggs). As noted, most of his breeding observations were of a nest or of young being fed by the adults. All of the observations reported were from early on in the twentieth century (1903 to 1930).
Green and Janssen (1975) reported a similar breeding distribution to that described by Roberts, primarily in northeastern and north-central Minnesota. They identified confirmed and inferred nesting from 15 counties primarily in the northern and northeastern counties, south to Isanti County, southwest to northeastern Stearns County, and west to Clearwater County. They also identified several summer observations from the Twin Cities area, but no nesting evidence was reported. Janssen (1987) also reinforced the species’ breeding distribution in Minnesota, but he extended it farther south with a confirmed nesting in northern Anoka County and northwest to Marshall County. He included a total of 9 counties with confirmed nesting since 1970. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) further expanded the confirmed nesting of the Purple Finch since 1970 to include Becker, Lake of the Woods, and Pennington Counties.
The Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS) (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016) included 438 breeding season locations and indicated high concentrations in the northeastern counties. Observers also recorded extensive breeding observation locations throughout the north-central and northwestern counties of Aitkin, Becker, Beltrami, Clearwater, Itasca, and Wadena. Scattered breeding season locations also included Douglas, Otter Tail, and Todd Counties in west-central Minnesota.
The MNBBA recorded 979 breeding records that indicated a strong association of the Purple Finch with the Laurentian Mixed Forest Ecological Province (Figure 2). Several observations were scattered in the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Ecological Province and in the northern and central areas of the Eastern Broadleaf Forest Ecological Province. Confirmed nesting in the latter province was noted in Anoka and Washington Counties; the latter was the first confirmed nest in Washington County.
A total of 693 blocks (14.6%) recorded confirmed, probable, or possible nesting activity (Figure 3; Table 1). Nesting was confirmed in 59 blocks, with new confirmed nesting in Carlton, Kittson, Morrison, Roseau, and Todd Counties, in addition to the one in Washington County. Probable nesting also was reported from Koochiching, Otter Tail, and Wadena Counties.
The breeding distribution of the Purple Finch in Minnesota as described by Roberts (1932) has not changed much since the late 1800s and early 1900s. However, increased efforts by bird watchers and counts such as by the MBS have clarified more details about its breeding range in the state. Breeding populations have likely existed in the western and northwestern regions of Becker, Kittson, Marshall, and Otter Tail Counties where suitable forested areas exist. The Purple Finch is known to sing earlier in the spring, such as in late April or in May, when few breeding bird counts have been initiated. Therefore, breeding activity is probably underestimated in many locations because song activity declines by June. The extensive search efforts that resulted in many confirmed nesting records during the MNBBA in the Brainerd and Duluth areas (Figure 2) reinforces that breeding activity is underestimated when nest searching is at a minimum or when breeding bird counts are concentrated in June.
Wootton (1996) provided little information in his review of historical changes in the breeding distribution of the Purple Finch in North America. He only comments on the range contractions in northern Illinois and Indiana, as well as in the southern Appalachian Mountains over the past 80 years. Like Roberts (1932), Cutright et al. (2006) provided limited evidence of breeding in southern Wisconsin in the late 1800s. But Brewer et al. (1991) suggested that the species had declined in Michigan since the early 1900s with the clearing of the forests. They also commented that the breeding distribution has changed little since and may even have increased southward with regrowth and forest maturation. Chartier et al. (2013), however, stated it “appears that the distribution of Purple Finch has been consistent for 100 years” in Michigan. This is also supported by Cadman et al. (2007) in Ontario, who stated that “the overall distribution of the Purple Finch in Ontario does not appear to have changed much for as long as records have been kept.” They also commented that “maturation of retired farmland and maturation of conifer plantations” may have helped explain some regional increases in its population.
Cutright et al. (2006) found confirmed nesting of Purple Finches in two southern Wisconsin counties, Sauk and Vernon. Vernon County is adjacent to Houston County in Minnesota, the most southeastern county in the state. These confirmed observations suggest that the species should be looked for in late April and May in suitable habitats of Minnesota’s southeastern counties, such as where mature coniferous trees exist.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.