November 2016 - The Bullfinch

Male Bullfinch feeding on Niger seed, Bawburgh



Bullfinches can be seen all year round in gardens, woodlands, orchards and hedgerows around Bawburgh, although not in large numbers. They are large UK finches, the male birds being beautifully coloured with bright rose pink breasts, under-parts, and cheeks, with grey backs, black caps and tails, and white rumps. The female birds, in contrast, have brown backs and pinkish-fawn under-parts. Juveniles are similar to the female birds, but have brown heads and faces. The birds have a white wing bar, which together with their white rumps, can be seen when the birds are in flight. Their beaks are large and strong.

The name Bullfinch is said to have originated because of the bird's bull-like neck-less, compact body with short thick bill. In Victorian times caged Bullfinches were desired because of their plumage and mournful call, a short low-pitched whistle. It was believed that the caged birds could be trained to mimic music and it became a popular pastime to play a special flute to the bird.

Although largely berry and seed eaters (liking dock, nettle, bramble, ash, birch, teasel and honesty for example), in spring they also feed on the buds of various trees, and have been considered particular pests of fruit crops. Bullfinches appear to maintain a pair bond throughout the year. They usually nest in shrubs or hedges such as blackthorn or hawthorn, 4 to 7 feet above the ground and the nests (flimsy, loose structures, built from twigs and moss lined with fine roots and hair) are built by the female birds only. After laying 4 to 5 eggs she incubates the eggs alone. Both birds, however, take on feeding duties once the eggs hatch. They supplement their young's diet with insects.

In the mid 1970s the UK Bullfinch population entered a long period of decline, following a period of relative stability. The reason for this decline is not altogether clear, although changes to agricultural practices, and reduced woodland diversity have been cited as possibly causes. The decline eventually ended around year 2000. In the UK conservation listing this bird has been considered 'red', the highest rating for endangered species, although in 2009, the rating was downgraded to 'amber', and since then further population recovery has occurred.

According to the RSPB there are in the region of 220,000 breeding pairs in the UK.

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