The beautiful yet shy bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) is a distinctive bird with a plump appearance. Both males and females boast grey backs, black caps and bright white rumps. But males are distinguished by their striking pinkish-red breasts whereas females have subtle greyish-buff breasts. These birds are rarely seen in the open and favour woodland, orchards and hedgerows. They will visit gardens but often only those which can be accessed via generous cover. Bullfinches are resident in the UK throughout the year and you are more likely to see one that hear one as their song is incredibly soft and can only be heard from close by.
What is the bullfinch’s distribution and population?
Bullfinches can be seen throughout the UK with the exception of Northern Scotland. However, their numbers have declined by a troubling 36% since 1967. It is thought that the intensification of farming and reduced diversity of woodlands have caused the fall in the UK population which now numbers just 190,000 breeding pairs. Numbers have begun to increase again but the bullfinch is listed as an amber species of conservation concern.
What do bullfinches eat?
Seeds and the shoots of fruit tress are the favourite foods of bullfinches. They may also eat insects in summer. During the spring these birds can become pests as they feed on the buds of variety of fruit trees. It is only recently that they have begun to visit garden feeders. They are most attracted to seeds and particularly sunflower seeds.
Adult bullfinches may travel long distances from their nests to find meals due to the poor availability of their natural diet. This has meant that they have evolved special food sacs in the floors of their mouths which enable them to take food back to their chicks.
Where do bullfinches nest?
Bullfinches appear to maintain a bond with their mate throughout the year and possibly mate for life. They lay 4–5 eggs in a nest which is usually built 4–7 feet above the ground. Nests are fashioned from fine twigs, moss and lichens. The birds line the nests with a thick layer of fine roots. Chicks fledge after around 16 days.
Did you know?
Bullfinches were once considered to be serious pests in orchards, to the extent that in the 16th century, King Henry VIII condemned the birds and their impact on fruit trees. An Act of Parliament declared that one penny would be paid for every bird that was killed.
Bullfinches may have annoyed owners of fruit trees but they were once popular cage birds in the UK.