Although one of the most colourful native British species, the Bullfinch can easily pass unnoticed in the garden as it prefers thick foliage and is shy in its behaviour. When their winter seed supply runs out they will turn to eat tree buds, which is the reason the species has historically been so unpopular with fruit growers, as the birds will often strip a fruit tree such as apple of its fruit buds. The Bullfinch’s song is a quiet warbling and their call a distinctive whistle deu-deu, which can be heard even when the birds are hidden. A fairly large finch compared to other species, the male has a deep pink chest and underparts, black cap and a white rump which is often the main fetaure seen as it flies off. The female is a greyer version but with a similar plumage pattern.
Bullfinch nesting and breeding habits
Most Bullfinch pairs stay together throughout the year – unlike most songbird species which separate after breeding. In spring the male chooses a nest site and leads the female to it which will be in a thick hedge or conifer, where she builds a delicate nest of twigs and fine rootlets. 4 or 5 purple streaked green-blue eggs are laid, hatching after 14 days with incubation by the female. The young fledge after 12-16 days and a second brood is common.
Bullfinch history and population trends
There’s been a 36% reduction in UK Bullfinch numbers since the mid-sixties, with this worrying trend meaning the species in now listed as amber status.
Behaviour traits of Bullfinches
Bullfinches are shy and retiring, though when they can be viewed they’re often in pairs or small family groups. They have an unfortunate habit of damaging more fruit buds than they actually eat, and this has historically made the species unpopular with gardeners and fruit growers.
Bullfinch diet and food
This is almost entirely made up of seeds, buds and shoots, though some insects are also taken but mainly fed to their young. Bullfinches will occasionally feed on seeds put out for them in gardens and will even come onto hanging seed feeders, but their shy behaviour means this is a rare treat to observe.