The Texas Ruby Red House Finch
All photographs are copyrighted and may not be used without permission.
© 2006-2015 - All Rights Reserved

This is a page under construction, but just to get it started I've thrown a few pictures up. Mostly very poor quality grab shots, but they illustrate an overlooked and under-appreciated point. These are all taken at Utopia, Uvalde Co., Texas, near southern edge of Edwards Plateau, and are all House Finch.

The south central Texas House Finch has long been said by Texans to be the reddest of them all. It is no brag, but fact. But because they were caught bragging about the size of their state just once a long long time ago, nobody believed them. In my opinion this House Finch also has the sweetest song of 'em all. I call it the Texas Ruby Red House Finch.

Unlike typical field guide depictions in which male House Finch is shown with a brown nape and back, the south-central Texas Ruby Red House Finch often has a very red nape and back, as in the way Purple Finch are depicted. This has caused a tremendous amount of mis-identifications here, as these Texas birds are not well depicted in most national guides.

So we hope to begin to shed some light on the subject. Most important note the variation in the shades of red due the the birds, and different lighting and angles. Then note the extent of red, which is usually beyond that shown in any field guide image I've seen for House Finch, generally matching male Purple Finch depictions in extent.

House Finch

The Texas Ruby Red House Finch
Yes, this has levels a little juiced, but only a little compared to what you likely think.  :)
Just to show extent of red in back. June

House Finch

Note flush to back, and somewhat maroonish tone on this one in January.

House Finch House Finch

These two are the same bird, note strong red wash to nape and back.

House Finch

April, note red blush again, this is how they look here.

House Finch

It is not uncommon for eyebrows to meet on nape forming very bright bar-like patch. March

House Finch

June, a sick or dead bird, but shows a common extent of red above.

House Finch

June, same bird

birds at feeder

House Finches (male upper left, female lower right) American goldfinch (upper right - winter male) and a Pine Siskin (leaving - lower left) at sunflower tube. Note male House Finch auriculars (ear coverts, side of face) flushed with red, crown and nape is same so whole head can appear red overall, and it typically extends well down back on many to most full adult males here.

House Finch


House Finch

February, crown, nape, and back flushed red, slightly maroonish in throat

House Finch

February, note strong wash of red on nape and upper back

House Finch

Females range from grayer to browner in appearance, note two narrow white wingbars

House Finch

another female

It is interesting that people that know Purple and House Finch never confuse them whatsoever and can ID them in fading light bare-eyed at reasonable distance without use of details of plumage or color, correctly 100% of the time. With size, shape, and structure. Then, folks studying birds that are trying to learn them with books called field guides are being led to the wrong answer by not having a proper depiction of what *their* House Finch looks like. It is not all user.

At least if you live in a bunch of Texas, which I heard is pretty darn big. This bird's range is the same in area as more than 6 NE U.S. states, or double that, where there would be outrage if not unrest to not have a usable workable House Finch image that reflected reality.  :)  ;)

Today's rate of false positives for Purple Finch did not exist 30 years ago (I don't think). I checked most of the standard basic guides and it seems to me the much maligned Golden Guide (Robbins) actually might have the closest most similar image to these House Finch in central Texas. We got it right with the Golden Guide, Petersen, and Pough a half-century ago, and now with modern guides, more, don't.

I'd say the rate of false positives for PUFI seems highest in the hill country. I don't know how widespread the Texas Ruby Red HOFI is, but in the old days it was Falcon Dam area HOFI that were particularly held in the highest esteem for redness by locals. But I think that was as much because birders were so happy to get out of the bugs and humidity of the LRGV, and see HOFI, in that xeric landscape, where reds seem brighter. These are just as bright here in the hill country, seeming the same animal to me.

Lots of people here are feeding, watching feeders, learning, and due to field guide images as much as anything, not being able to figure it out correctly.  But they do have images of about a hundred Eurasian species should any of them occur in their yard.   ;)

House Finch is abundant in the hill country, I've seen flocks in the wild, away from towns and people, feeding on wild seed crops, of over a hundred birds. Whereas Purple Finch is rare southward nowadays, as its winter range retracts northward. PUFI is a canary in the coalmine indicator species: it used to be regular here in winter, even common some years, and now no longer occurs much, becoming a rarity in a decade.

That is how fast change happens, in less time than it takes to deny it. The last good years for PUFI around Utopia were winters 03-04 and 04-05, when you could see multiples at the sunflower tube feeders, but not since have I seen that.

Here is a quick checklist of features to look at or for, when seperating Purple from House Finch. Bird identification is not a picture match game, but the matching of a known suite of characters for any given species. These are generally found ONLY by reading the text in multiple guides. Multiple marks must be used and they must match to claim an ID. The more that do, the more certain the ID is. Always get 5 and try for 10 marks.


Here's a Basic 101 primer on what to look for in PUFI vs. HOFI.

PUFI = Purple Finch;   HOFI = House Finch

short fat round shape
big square blocky head
short tail
tail deeply notched
unmarked thighs
dingy low-contrast wingbars
straight edged bill
triangular bill
small bill on big head

males -
barely if streaked sides
red extends down sides
red color on wing
rasberry, maroon, burgundy
(a purple toned red)
red on nape and back

females -
bold high contrast streaks below
streaking below dark brown
(dark chocolate)
base underpart color snow white
crisp-edged streaking below
head boldy patterned
white in eyebrow, malar, throat

calls -
short quick low flat pit notes
HOFI (Texas Ruby Red)

long slim shape
smaller rounder head
long tail
tail shallowly notched
striped thighs (usually)
cleaner whiter wingbars
round edged bill (profile)
roundish bill (usually)
big bill on smaller head

males -
heavilly streaked sides to flanks
sides mostly without red, most on breast
no red color on wing
tomato to fire engine red usually
few ruby, candy apple to maroon-ish tinted
red on nape and back (full adults)

females -
dull lower contrast streaks below
streaking medium brown
(milk chocolate)
base color below dingy creamy white
diffuse blurry-edged streaking below
head without bold pattern
no white eyebrow, malar, throat

calls -
longer higher pitched musical tones
Try to match as many characters as possible each time on every bird to make good solid identifications. Learn the size, shape, and structure of a HOFI, the whole and the parts, and when a PUFI shows up, it will stand out like a sore thumb. If you really know a House Finch bill or tail, you cannot mis-ID one for a PUFI. It really is that simple. You don't have to know PUFI. Know what you have, and that means bill shape and tail shape, which are as important as any color or pattern.

If you think you have a PUFI, you check to make sure it doesn't have a HOFI bill or tail, first. I can't emphasize enough to not use the extent of red on head or in back, as it is not a useful character of seperation here in central Texas, even if the books did have it right.

Note the nice knickers HOFI wears, almost always if you can see the upper most feathered portion of leg, the thigh, HOFI has fancy pajamas with thin milk chocolate stripes on the feathered portion of the tibia.

I'll be adding more HOFI pix to the page to better and more fully illustrate the Texas Ruby Red House Finch.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

If you're here looking for them, whatever you do, don't forget to try some Texas Ruby Red Grapefruits and or juice, but *only Texun brand* juice (and say goodbye to calcium kidney stones). Do not get the national brand juice if you want the real deal pure straight stuff unpolluted with corn syrup.

Full disclosure:
I have no interest financial or otherwise in Texun brand or anything Texas Ruby Red, other than stealing the name for our House Finch as it is most appropriate. And not being able to get over how good and sweet Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit is.    ;)

If you have arrived here from our Bird Photos page, you may close your browser to return to the Bird Photos index.

Other visitors may click your "Back" button on your browser or select a link to keep visiting!
All photographs within this site are copyrighted
and may not be used without permission.
All Rights Reserved.
© M. and K. Heindel 2006-2020