The Monthly Web Magazine for Birdwatchers September 2001  
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 Bullfinch - Fact File
Male BullfinchFemale Bullfinch male (left), female
Pyrrhula pyrrhula
Widespread but declining resident.
Woodland edges, hedgerows, orchards and large gardens.
Plump, bull-necked. Males red, black, grey and white plumage is distinctive. Female has similar pattern, but duller breast colour. White rump is often all that is seen as birds fly off.
15cm (6")


When did you last see a bullfinch? Long gone are the days when parties of half a dozen brilliantly coloured males regularly visited our garden here at Thorpe.

During the nesting season the bullfinch is a woodland bird; the only sign of its presence a soft piping or a fleeting vision of a white rump.

Photo: © Arnstein Berg

In late autumn it is more of a wanderer, feeding largely on the seeds of herbaceous plants. But these decrease in importance with the onset of winter and are replaced by tree seeds, especially ash.

The next diet change is in spring when fruit buds become the staple diet. These attacks can become a serious problem. A single bullfinch can remove 30 or more buds in a minute.

Bullfinch numbers increased enormously in the 1950s making this for a time the biggest problem that the fruit-growing industry had to face. Almost every grower had little option but to trap bullfinches (using cage-traps complete with a live decoy) during the winter and spring. Many growers in well-wooded districts caught more than a thousand birds annually.

Locally, during the 1960s, a Great Hautbois fruit farm was trapping 500 annually and this total was doubled at nearby Westwick.

Although trapping reduced the damage the fact that catches continued year after year showed that it had no sustained effect on bullfinch numbers. But then gradually, from the mid 1970s, bullfinches became scarcer again. Catches on most farms steadily declined.

During the years of abundance the events of 1961/2 in Suffolk were outstanding. At Minsmere cliffs, bullfinch coasting movements were particularly evident on October 21 when 50 travelled south followed by more than 200 there on New Year's Day.

At this time bullfinches were to be found feeding on the beaches at Dunwich and Walberswick.

Bullfinches in northern Europe perform regular migrations. Those that remain depend on garden feeding trays, taking sunflower and other seeds. It is strange that this habit has never caught on in Britain.

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.