Did you recently see a mystery PURPLE bird in Iowa?
If so, I’m guessing you are trying to identify the species correctly!
Well, you’re in the right place. Below, you will learn about the different PURPLE birds in Iowa. I’ve included high-quality pictures and range maps to help you!
Fortunately, many of the purple birds listed below visit bird feeders, so you have a great chance of attracting them to your yard. If you’re incredibly fortunate, you may even see one at my bird feeding station right now! I have a LIVE high-definition camera watching my bird feeders 24/7. 🙂
6 PURPLE birds that live in Iowa:
*Please note that purple is not a common color for birds. As you will see, many birds below only have a patch of purple feathers. In addition, some of the species have iridescent feathers, which means they ONLY appear purple when the sun is shining on them.*
#1. European Starling
- Sturnus vulgaris
- A common purple bird in Iowa. Their plumage appears shiny in the sun, which is when you see the purple sheen.
- Breeding adults are darker black and have a green-purple tint. In winter, starlings lose their glossiness, their beaks become darker, and they develop white spots over their bodies.
Did you know these purplish birds are an invasive species and aren’t supposed to be in Iowa?
In 1890, one hundred starlings were brought over from Europe and released in New York City’s Central Park. The rest is history as starlings easily conquered the continent, along the way out-competing many native birds. Their ability to adapt to human development and eat almost anything is uncanny to almost no other species.
European Starling Range Map
When starlings visit in small numbers, they are fun to watch and have beautiful plumage. But unfortunately, these aggressive birds can ruin a party quickly when they visit in massive flocks, chasing away all the other birds while eating your expensive bird food. To keep these blackbirds away from your bird feeders, you must take extreme action and implement “anti-starling” strategies.
#2. Rock Pigeon
- Columba livia
Rock Pigeons are extremely common in Iowa, but they are almost exclusively found in urban areas. These birds are what everyone refers to as a “pigeon.” You have probably seen them gathering in huge flocks in city parks, hoping to get tossed some birdseed or leftover food.
The typical pigeon has a gray back, a blue-grey head, and two black wing bars. In addition, look for a purple iridescence around their necks!
Rock Pigeon Range Map
Pigeons are easily attracted to bird feeders, especially if leftover food is on the ground. Unfortunately, these purplish birds can become a nuisance if they visit your backyard in high numbers. Many people find their presence overwhelming and look for ways to keep them away!
Love them or hate them, Rock Pigeons have been associated with humans for a long time! Some Egyptian hieroglyphics suggest that people started domesticating them over 5,000 years ago. But, interestingly, scientists aren’t even sure where their original range occurs!
#3. Purple Finch
- Haemorhous purpureus
- Small, with a conical seed-eating bill.
- Males have a raspberry to purple head, breast, and back.
- Females have prominent streaks of white and brown below, with strong facial markings, including a whitish eyebrow and a dark line down the side of the throat.
Male Purple Finches are beautiful and look like they were dipped in raspberry juice.
Purple Finches use their big beaks and tongues to crush seeds and extract the nut. Your best chance to attract them to bird feeders is using black-oil sunflower seeds. Having conifer trees in your yard is also a great way to encourage these finches to visit.
Purple Finch Range Map
Purple Finches can be challenging to identify because they look similar to the more common House Finch. I’ve made this mistake many times, believing that I saw a Purple Finch when it was, in fact, just another House Finch. To tell them apart, look at their back. The Purple Finch’s back has red coloring, while the back of a House Finch has none.
#4. Purple Martin
- Progne subis
- Broad-chested swallows with long tapered wings and a forked tail. Slightly hooked bill.
- Adult males are dark and iridescent. They appear blue and purple in the sun.
- Females are duller with gray plumage on their heads and chests.
Purple Martins are incredible flyers! These swallows perform impressive aerial acrobatics when chasing their favorite prey, which are flying insects. Look for them mostly in open areas around water.
One interesting thing about Purple Martins is they breed in colonies in artificial nest boxes. In fact, throughout most of eastern North America, they rely solely on artificial cavities. But out west, Purple Martins still primarily use woodpecker holes for nesting. Interestingly, even before European settlers arrived, Native Americans used to hang up empty gourds for them!
Purple Martin Range Map
Unfortunately, Purple Martins face challenges for nesting sites from European Starlings and House Sparrows, which are both invasive to Iowa. These introduced species often kill hatchlings and eggs and take over the nesting location. Therefore, if you are considering putting up nest boxes for Purple Martins, you must be diligent in protecting them!
These bluish-purple birds are only in Iowa during the breeding season. Then, towards the end of summer, Purple Martins gather and roost together in HUGE numbers as they prepare to migrate back to South America. The flocks are so big they show up on the weather radar! Press PLAY below to a video I made that shows thousands of Purple Martins together.
#5. Great-tailed Grackle
- Quiscalus mexicanus
- These blackbirds are fairly large, slender, and have long legs,
- Males are iridescent and shine purple and blue in the sunlight. Look for their bright yellow eyes and long V-shaped tail.
- Females are about half the size of males. Their upperparts are dark brown, while below, they feature paler brown plumage.
Great-tailed Grackles are brash blackbirds that are often found in large flocks. It’s common to see them living near people at parks, farms, landfills, or neighborhood backyards. Naturally, they live in open forests, marshes, and scrub.
Their range has spread over the past century because of their fondness for agricultural and urban areas. In fact, they are one of the fastest expanding species in North America!
Great-tailed Grackle Range Map
Interestingly, it’s common for “sex-biased” populations of Great-tailed Grackles to occur where female birds greatly outnumber males. This phenomenon happens for two reasons.
- Females have a higher survival rate in the nest since they are smaller and require less food.
- On average, females live longer than males.
#6. Little Blue Heron
- Egretta caerulea
- Adults: Have a slate-gray body and a purple-maroon head and neck.
- Juveniles: During their first year, these herons are completely white!
- Look for a two-toned bill, regardless of the bird’s age, which is gray with a black tip.
These purple birds are found in shallow wetlands in southern Iowa. They are patient hunters and will stay motionless for long periods, waiting for prey to pass by them. While waiting, Little Blue Herons keep their daggerlike bill pointed downwards to be prepared for when a fish, amphibian, insect, or crustacean appears.
Little Blue Heron Range Map
Interestingly, juvenile Little Blue Herons are completely WHITE and look entirely different than adults! It’s thought that these birds adapted this white plumage so they can be tolerated by Snowy Egrets, which catch more fish. Hanging out with large flocks of white herons also helps avoid predators. 🙂
Which of these PURPLE birds have you seen before in Iowa?
Leave a COMMENT below. Make sure you tell us WHERE you saw the bird. 🙂