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.

What sound does a Bullfinch make?

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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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What attracts Bullfinches to your garden?

This will depend on the time of year, with blossom buds on fruit trees being a major attractant for Bullfinches which they quickly eat – this aspect not always making them a popular garden visitor. Another favourite food is dandelion seeds, and once the yellow flower has gone and is replaced with the distinctive dandelion clock (the name given to the ball of downy seed heads) Bullfinches will often arrive to eat the seeds. Occasionally Bullfinches can be attracted to bird feeders filled with black sunflower seeds or sunflower hearts, but this isn’t a common occurrence.

What do Bullfinches eat in the garden?

The unopened flower buds of fruit trees (also some leaf buds), plus seeds from flowers such as dandelion. Very occasionally Bullfinches will join other birds on seed feeders and even on bird tables.

Is a Bullfinch a ground feeder?

Bullfinches do feed on the ground but also in trees and shrubs – it just depends where the food is.

Is a Bullfinch a songbird?

Yes, Bullfinches are classed as a songbird.

Where did the name Bullfinch come from?

Bullfinches were named as such because of their front-heavy and ‘bull-headed’ looks – which is more apparent on the male bird compared to the female.