The Bullfinch is an unobtrusive but beautiful woodland bird, and an occasional garden visitor.
The Bullfinch is a distinctive, thick-set finch with different plumages between sexes and age groups. They are relatively easy to identify, although the non-descript juveniles can pose a challenge.
The adult male Bullfinch is a dashing little bird with a pink belly, chest, and cheeks. It has a black cap that starts under the chin and extends to the nape of the neck, and the tail and flight feathers are black.
Females have similar plumage but have grey-brown underparts and a brownish back. Both sexes have a prominent white wing bar, stout black bills, black eyes, and dark legs. The vent area is pure white, and they show a bright white rump in flight.
Juveniles are primarily brown and lack the black cap of adults. Their wings and tails are dark, and a whitish bar is visible across each wing. Their most distinctive feature is a bold white or off-white rump.
The adult male Chaffinch is superficially similar to the male Bullfinch as both birds have pink underparts, although these common birds have brown backs and lack the black crown, face, and bill of the Bullfinch.
The Bullfinch is a small (slightly larger than a Robin) but stoutly built finch with a large head and bill.
Most adult Bullfinches have a total body length between 14 and 16 centimetres. These stocky birds have a short bill and neck but a moderately long tail.
These birds can weigh up to 38 grams, although most individuals in the UK weigh between 21 and 27 grams.
These large finches have a wingspan of 22 to 26 centimetres.
Bullfinches are small birds, slightly larger than Robins
Both male and female Bullfinches sing although males are the more vocal sex.
Bullfinches have a soft but pleasant song. It is somewhat variable between individuals, and its notes are best described as ‘Peeu’ or ‘deu’, often interspersed with piping whistles.
Simon Elliott, XC602105. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/602105.
The Bullfinch’s stout bill is ideal for its vegetarian diet, and its habit of foraging in orchards has brought them into conflict with farmers. Continue reading to learn more about the Bullfinch diet.
The Bullfinch is primarily vegetarian, although they will eat small insects like beetles, moths, and aphids. Their principal foods are seeds, buds, and shoots.
Bullfinches favour flower buds in the winter and spring, and they can cause considerable damage to fruit crops like pears, apples, gooseberries, cherries, and plums. Unfortunately, this habit has given them pest status among farmers.
Check out our guide on the diet of a Bullfinch, including general feeding behaviour, as well as what to feed them.
Baby Bullfinches eat insects and other invertebrates supplied by both parents. They are fed for the two weeks they spend in the nest and up to 20 days after fledging.
Bullfinch eating berries
A single bullfinch can eat 30 or more fruit buds in a minute.
Would you like to see a Bullfinch? Read this section to learn where Bullfinches live and which habitats they prefer.
Bullfinches are primarily a lowland species, avoiding uplands and open country in the breeding season. They are most common in deciduous woodlands, hedgerows, orchards, and thickets, although they also visit parks and gardens in the United Kingdom.
Bullfinches are widespread in the United Kingdom and Ireland, although they are absent from parts of northern Scotland. Elsewhere the species is widespread across Europe to Japan and the Kamchatka Peninsula in the east.
Bullfinches spend most of their time in trees and other vegetation. They forage amongst the foliage, only occasionally descending to the ground or a bird table.
Bullfinch searching for a drink of water
Bullfinches have declined by over 30% since the 1970s. However, the breeding population is estimated at 190,000 to 265,000 pairs and are still fairly numerous.
Bullfinches are occasional garden birds in the UK, and some fortunate birdwatchers enjoy seeing these fine finches very close to home. They are widespread, and a quiet walk along a woodland edge in the countryside can be productive.
The bullfinch is quite shy and retiring, almost unobtrusive. Its white rump shows well during flight, which is fast with long undulations. Even from a distance, the bullfinch can be recognised by its plump body and broad neck.
They are known for their quiet, almost sluggish behaviour. Often seen in pairs or loose flocks.
Bullfinch (female) in flight
Bullfinches are relatively short-lived birds with an average lifespan of about two years.
Bullfinches are protected in the United Kingdom by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
The Bullfinch is not endangered. It has an amber conservation status in the UK due to significant declines over the last few decades but remains widespread and fairly common. They are ranked globally as a ‘Least Concern’ species.
Male Bullfinch perched in a tree
The Bullfinch is a breeding resident in the United Kingdom. Nesting occurs in the spring and summer, and successful pairs may produce up to three broods in a single season.
Bullfinches usually hide their nest in thick vegetation like hawthorn hedges, where they are well protected from nest predators. They will also build on level branches of trees like yews and spruces. Unfortunately, these shy birds rarely nest in gardens.
Bulffinches lay four to six blueish eggs with darker purple and brown markings.
Bullfinches are monogamous and maintain their pair bond throughout the year. In practice, this often means they mate for life since their average lifespan is just two years.
Bullfinch nest with four eggs inside
During the breeding season, adults develop cheek pouches which allow them to store more food and therefore leave the nest less often.
Despite their intimidating name, Bullfinches are fairly gregarious birds. They occur in small flocks, particularly in the non-breeding season, and juveniles may form small groups in the autumn. However, they value their personal space and react aggressively towards others that get too close.
Bullfinch females are dominant over males, which is quite unusual among songbirds. Females will attack males at times, but males do not return the aggression. Males will fight amongst themselves, particularly when guarding their partners against other males.
Female (left) and male (right) Eurasian Bullfinches perched on a branch
The UK climate is suitable for Bullfinches throughout the year, but harsh winters force them to migrate elsewhere in their range. Read on to learn more about Bullfinch movements and migrations.
Bullfinches can be seen throughout the year in the United Kingdom. They are a resident breeding species, although small numbers may arrive in the winter from Scandinavia for the non-breeding season. The species is migratory and partially migratory elsewhere in Asia and Eastern Europe.
Bullfinches are native to the United Kingdom. Their bright colours and ability to mimic tunes made them popular caged birds in the 19th century.
Bullfinch at a feeder, eating sunflower seeds
Bullfinches are generally uncommon garden birds and have been reported from about one in ten UK gardens. They are most likely to visit well-wooded gardens, particularly in rural areas with nearby woodlands.
One way to attract Bullfinches is to grow fruit trees that provide a natural food source, although they will occasionally visit bird tables, especially if sunflower seeds are on offer. Providing a bird bath or other fresh water source is another way to attract them and many other garden birds.
Known collective nouns for a group of Bullfinches are as follows:
General collective nouns for a group of Finches may also be used:
Eurasian Bullfinch, Common Bullfinch
14.5cm to 16cm
22cm to 26cm
21g to 38g
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.
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