Bullfinches regularly top the list of British winter birds, but what do we really know about these secretive creatures?
Vibrant and quite rotund, these bouncing balls of colour offer a burst of brightness across a bleak winter garden. The bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) is traditionally a hedgerow and woodland bird, but as winter in draws and the berries disappear they will venture into suburban gardens in search of seed – so it’s our job to keep them in a good supply of feed!
Males are famous for their protruding pink bellies and black masks. While their appearance may be slightly clown-like, their simplistic, mainly single-noted song sounds almost shy or sheepish in comparison. Females are not as flashy as their male counterparts and sport a tan or buff-coloured stomach, but are certainly not afraid to show their dominance over their partners.
Bullfinches can’t get enough of fruit and berries! They’ll often frequent orchards, so much so they have been labelled a pest by many farmers. Their short beaks are specially adapted for breaking apart buds which many people used to think could harm the tree – this belief led to the culling of many thousands of bullfinches, although it turns out this might have been unnecessary.
Because they spend much of their time foraging for berries and perching in the hedgerows rather than out in the open, they have garnered a reputation for being extremely guarded. British bullfinches are home-birds and rarely move more than a few kilometres over the course of their lives.
Although they are not common garden birds, being seen in fewer than 10% of gardens each week, it is definitely worth attempting to lure these beautiful creatures onto your feeders during the winter.
If you would like to accept this challenge, you’ll need just four things:
1 Sunflower hearts
A favourite of so many birds, sunflower hearts really do make a fantastic meal. Full of key nutrients, they are a great way to gain energy quickly.
2 Black sunflower seeds
The bullfinch’s second favourite feed. The tough husks of a sunflower make feeding slightly trickier, but this bird is well equipped with its large finch beak and can break into the casing with ease.
3 Berry bushes
As bullfinches reside near hedgerows for most of the year, berries are their main food source. A large supply of berries will keep these finches happy during later summer and autumn.
4 Blossom trees
It might seem much too early to be thinking about spring, but the bullfinch will thank you for it! Between March and May this shy bird feeds on buds, preferring those of flowering trees over leaf buds.