The Monthly Web Magazine for Birdwatchers September 2001  
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 Brambling - Fact File
male - breeding (left), winter (right)
Fringilla montifringilla
Widespread winter visitor from Scandinavia in varying numbers.
Woodland edges, fields. Shows particular preference for beech trees.
The winter plumage is most often seen in Britain. Female similar to but duller than illustrated winter male. In flight, white rump distinguishes from Chaffinch.
15 cm (6")


As I write, the old Bramley apple in our garden is occupied by a variety of finches: greenfinches, chaffinches and bramblings. The attraction is a constant supply of flattened, shelled, peanuts.

The bramblings are readily distinguished by dazzling white rumps. In addition, the males display orange shoulders and the most forward individuals show almost jet-black heads.

Recent mild winters have resulted in an absence of bramblings in the garden. I began to think there would never be a return to the time when more than 90 were on show from the lounge, all appreciating the early sun after alighting in a massive, icy-clad chestnut.

'Our' bramblings are on display for the greater part of the day — apart from one memorable occasion during the first snowfall of the year. As I watched, every bird in the garden suddenly vanished.

An explanation soon appeared in the form of a female sparrowhawk which had alighted in the apple tree within inches of the feeding table. Not surprisingly, the bramblings were in no hurry to return.

Bramblings take the place of chaffinches in the birch and light conifer forests of northern Europe. Here they are second in abundance only to the willow warbler.

The brambling is one of the most highly migratory of all finches. In autumn, the whole breeding population moves southwards, often congregating in enormous numbers at particularly good feeding localities. As a result, bramblings may occupy widely different areas in successive winters.

Like waxwings, they are well-known for the unpredictability of their migrations; birds wintering here one year have been recovered in Italy the next. This irregularity may be associated with the dependence of brambling flocks on the seeds of a few trees (especially beech) that tend to be produced plentifully in alternate years in different localities.

When beechmast is exhausted, bramblings will flock with other finches on arable land, feeding on any weed seeds or grain.

In Europe, there are records of enormous brambling gatherings. At times these almost unbelievable estimates run into millions. In this country, the brambling is a passage migrant and a winter visitor. Largest arrivals reach our coast during October, soon penetrating inland.

Nowadays, these immigrants pass unmolested. But a century ago, as graphically described by Arthur Patterson, the Yarmouth bird catchers would be waiting to spring their deadly chap-nets

By Michael J. Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.