Attractive finches with an autumnal-coloured plumage, bramblings are winter visitors to Britain, arriving in vast numbers to forage in UK woodlands, parks and gardens for their favourite food: beech nuts.
Male Brambling in breeding plumage
14cm to 15cm
25cm to 26cm
A brambling’s plumage varies during the year, with distinct differences between colouring in the breeding and non-breeding seasons. Males and females can easily be told apart visually at all times of the year.
In the UK, most bramblings we see are in non-breeding plumage, which features a mottled dark brownish-black head and back, dark wings with pale fringes and pale orange-white wing bars. The upper wings, throat and breast are also a pale orange, fading to a whitish belly and underparts, with some speckling on the flanks. On the back of the neck is a paler grey patch and a white rump is visible in flight. The bill is triangular and yellow, with a dark tip.
A breeding male’s plumage is similar to its basic winter colouring, with the exception of the head, which begins to darken to a rich black as the winter progresses. By the time they arrive on breeding grounds, their entire face, upper neck and back are a deep, solid black.
Females are similarly marked to males in both plumages, but their colouring is more muted and washed out, with greyish brown replacing the darker black. The back of a female is a lighter brown, with a clearer pale edging to wing feathers, interspersed with the same orange hue seen on males. Female bramblings’ facial markings are a paler greyish-brown and speckling on their flanks is less obvious.
Juvenile bramblings are similar to non-breeding adults but with duller, more muted shades and brownish-rusty tips to wing feathers.
Male Brambling, breeding plumage
Bramblings are medium-sized finches, similar in dimensions and shape to a chaffinch. There is no difference in size between males and females.
Brambling, non-breeding plumage, next to a watering hole
In winter, bramblings are largely silent, and their song is not usually heard away from breeding grounds, where they make a series of buzzing notes, lively chirps, and softer twitters. Their most common call is a wheezy ‘jseeerp’, often heard among groups of males ahead of spring migration.
Brambling, breeding plumage, perched in a tree chirping
Bramblings are mainly seed-eaters, with a strong preference for beech seeds. The abundance of beech seeds influences the timing of migrations, with movement south and west once local supplies on breeding grounds begin to run out. Other seeds and berries in their diet include birch, pine, spruce, apple and elder. Grasses, cereals, and grains may also be eaten.
In the spring and summer months, bramblings also forage for invertebrates, including springtails, aphids, bugs, earwigs, bees, ants, wasps and spiders. In summer, prey is found in foliage or picked from bark and leaves, while in the autumn and winter, it’s more common to see bramblings foraging on the ground for fallen seeds.
The early diet of newly hatched brambling chicks mainly consists of moth larvae and small caterpillars.
Brambling feeding on seeds
Woodland habitats are preferred by bramblings throughout the year. In the breeding season, they are usually found in coniferous forests, mixed wooded landscapes, and small copses with birch, willow and alder.
Outside of the breeding season, beech woodlands are particularly favoured, as well as pastureland, parks and gardens.
Bramblings breed across the northern and north-eastern regions of Europe, from Norway, through much of northern Sweden, Finland, and into Estonia, and Russia, extending into northern Kazakhstan and western Mongolia.
In winter, bramblings move south spreading across much of western and southern Europe, from the UK as far south as northern Morocco. Some coastal populations in Norway are year-round residents, while further south they are present from southern Sweden and Denmark, through Greece, Turkey, and around the southern coasts of the Black Sea.
In Asia, winter migrants arrive in Pakistan, northern India, eastern China, Japan, and parts of South East Asia.
Between 15.2 and 24 million brambling pairs breed in Europe each year, the majority of which live in Russia, Sweden, Finland and Norway. The European population accounts for around 25 percent of the global population for this species, with an overall estimate of between 121.2 and 192 million mature individuals.
In the UK, bramblings are a common and widespread winter visitor, with up to 1.8 million arrivals each autumn. Occasionally a pair or two will remain throughout the year and rare reports of breeding exist. In Europe, they are abundant, with between 13 and 22 million breeding pairs.
Bramblings are mainly winter visitors to the UK, arriving post-breeding from September onwards. They are present throughout much of the country, although are absent from localised regions near the Scottish border, and into the Highlands of Scotland.
The best chances of a sighting are in beech forests, in farmland and parkland, and among flocks of mixed finches.
Brambling standing in a dusting of snow during the winter
On average, bramblings are expected to live for between 2 and 5 years, with the older individuals occasionally identified through ringing schemes, including one that reached 8 years and 7 months. Bramblings breed for the first time at one year of age.
Sparrowhawks and falcons may opportunistically prey on adult bramblings, while corvids, in particular crows and jays, may attack nests and young birds.
Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, bramblings in the UK are protected from being killed, injured, or taken into captivity. As a Schedule 1 species, they have additional protection during the nesting season, stating that it is an offence to disturb a nest site and destroy or damage a brambling’s nest, eggs and young.
Across their global range, bramblings are widespread and abundant and are classified as a species of least concern. In the UK they have Green status on the British Birds of Conservation Concern list and there are no immediate fears for their future survival.
Brambling in mountain habitat
Bramblings often build their nests high up in the fork of a tree or close to the trunk. Occasionally lower level nest sites may be chosen, low down in scrubland or even on the ground.
Cup-shaped nests are crafted using heather, strips of bark from juniper or birch trees, grasses, moss and lichens. Soft plant parts, animal fur, feathers, and cobwebs are added as a lining.
The breeding season for bramblings lasts from May until early August. In most parts of their range they have just one brood per year, although in parts of Siberia and north-west Russia, a second may be successfully raised.
Male bramblings bring food to the nest while the female incubates, with eggs hatching after between 11 and 12 days. Both parents feed young, which fledge after 13 to 14 days.
Bramblings’ eggs vary in base colour, from a light blue to a darker olive brown, and are marked with light or heavy pink-to-brown speckles. A typical clutch contains between 5 to 7 eggs, which measure 19 mm by 14 mm (0.7 mm by 0.6 mm).
Bramblings form monogamous pairs at the start of the breeding season and remain together until they have raised their young. Pair bonds do not last through the winter and new mates are found the next time they breed.
Brambling foraging on the ground
During the breeding season, bramblings live mostly as solitary pairs and defend their mate against threats when nesting. Once their young have fledged, they become a far more social species, flying in large flocks with other bramblings as well as different finches, particularly chaffinches.
Giant roosts of bramblings may gather at dusk during autumn and winter, including one example in Slovenia, where at least 2 million individuals flocked in 2019 to spend nights huddled together in the branches of trees.
Brambling perching on a branch covered in moss
Bramblings are a mostly migratory species, although populations that breed in the northern reaches of Scandinavia and on the Russian tundras move south in winter in search of more abundant food crops when local supplies begin to dwindle.
Post-breeding migration begins in late September, with females leaving their nesting territories ahead of males and juveniles. Migration flights usually take place during daylight hours, but passage over water is mostly by night. Spring arrivals on breeding grounds begin from late February onwards.
Up to 1.8 million bramblings are present in Britain during the winter months, and although on occasion some may stay on after migration to northern breeding grounds is underway, only a handful of successful breeding records exist from recent years.
A rare breeding bird in the UK, twite numbers have dropped dramatically in northern England since 1990, with only a handful of pairs remaining. Efforts are ongoing to revive the UK breeding population, with further pairs nesting in Wales and across Scotland, which is joined by migrants from northern Europe during winter months.
One of twenty species in the Spinus genus, Eurasian Siskins are small widespread finches with predominantly yellow/green plumage. Not uncommon in gardens in the winter, birdwatchers are most likely to encounter these agile little birds in coniferous forests and plantations.
Serins are the smallest European member of the finch family. Rare reports exist of breeding serins in isolated parts of the UK, and small numbers might be seen during migration passage each year, although sightings are not guaranteed.
Unique to the Caledonian pine forests of the Scottish Highlands, the Scottish crossbill is the UK mainland’s only endemic bird species that is not found anywhere else in the world. Visually, it’s relatively hard to distinguish Scottish crossbills from the two other crossbill species (common crossbill and parrot crossbill) found in the UK.
A rare breeding bird in Britain, found mainly in pine forests in the Scottish Highlands, the parrot crossbill is both the rarest and the largest of the three crossbill species found in the UK. Similar in plumage to the red crossbill and common crossbill, the key identifying features of the parrot crossbill lie in the shape of its head shape, its bill structure and the pitch of its song.
A seed-eating finch, widespread throughout much of the UK, linnets are a colourful presence on heathlands and scrublands, particularly in coastal areas or in hedgerows on agricultural land, where they feed on weed seeds, including dandelion and dock, around the edges of cultivated fields.
A tiny finch, only marginally larger than a blue tit, the lesser redpoll is an acrobatic streaky seed-eater, that can be seen all year round throughout Ireland, in much of Wales, northern England and parts of northern and central Scotland.
Britains largest finch, the hawfinch is unmistakable due not only to its size and light chestnut colouring, but mainly because of its giant, almost cartoon-like bill. They are fairly secretive birds, and with a maximum 1,000 breeding pairs in the UK, sightings would certainly count as memorable.
Identified by its distinctive yellow wing patches and wheezing call, the Greenfinch is a common garden bird throughout the United Kingdom.
The European goldfinch is common across southern England, and can frequently be seen feeding on the seeds of thistles, teasels and other scrubland vegetation.Goldfinches are enjoying a population boom, with garden visits reported to be up 70 percent on numbers seen 20 years ago.
The common rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus) is resident in forest and woodland habitats across northern Europe and Asia, and, as its name suggests, has a plumage marked with various shades of red and pink.
This medium sized finch is a specialised feeder with a chunky downwards curving beak which is crossed at its end giving rise to its descriptive name.
One of the smaller members of the finch family, the common redpoll breeds in northern latitudes and despite their tiny, fragile body size, can survive in bleak Arctic tundra landscapes.
One of the most common birds to visit back gardens in the UK – and also one of the most easy to identify – the chaffinch is a colourful and tuneful finch, known for its cheery, repetitive trilled song. They live in a wide range of habitats, and with more than 5 million breeding pairs, it shouldn’t be too difficult to tick one off your bird spotting list if you know where to look.
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.
© 2023 - Birdfact. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced without our written permission.