Coccothraustes coccothraustes

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.



Hawfinch in flight

Hawfinch in flight

Hawfinch (female)

Hawfinch (female)

Close up portrait of a Hawfinch

Close up portrait of a Hawfinch

Appearance & Identification

What do Hawfinches look like?

Hawfinches are a distinctive chunky finch, with a large round pale orange-chestnut head with contrasting black eye markings, and powerful wide bill being their most notable features. Their plumage consists of shades of light brown and orange, with a darker orange head fading into a paler buff-brown breast and belly.

Facial markings include a small black bib beneath the bill which extends to form a narrow ring around the upper bill and a black patch that reaches the eyes.

Hawfinch (male)

Hawfinch (male)

The nape of a male hawfinch is a greyish-buff, darkening into a deeper brown back. Wings are dark brown, with white and blue bars, and a black and white rump is visible in flight. The deep orange-brown tail is tipped with white.

Perhaps the most iconic feature, the wide, out-of-proportion bill, is light greyish-blue in winter and darkens to near-black in the summer. Legs are pinkish-brown and irises are reddish-brown.

Female hawfinches have similar markings to males, but can be fairly easily distinguished due to their plumage being paler and altogether less vibrant.

Female Hawfinch

Female Hawfinch

Juvenile hawfinches lack the bold contrasting plumage of adult birds, although some of the markings are evident in a muted form. Their colouring is more of a mottled yellowish-brown than the richer chestnut tones, but the early stages of faint wing barring can be seen, and the bill, already a distinctive feature, is a pale yellowish-brown.

Juvenile Hawfinch

Juvenile Hawfinch

How big are Hawfinches

Hawfinches are the largest member of the finch family, slightly smaller than a starling and around 6 cm larger than a blue tit. Males are slightly larger and heavier than females, with measurements and weights in the average range below:

  • Size: 16.5 cm to 18cm (6.5 in to 7.1 in)
  • Wingspan: 29 cm to 33 cm (11.4 in to 13 in)
  • Weight: 48 g to 62 g (1.7 oz to 2.2 oz)
Hawfinches are the largest members of the finch family

Hawfinches are the largest members of the finch family

Calls & Sounds

What sound does a Hawfinch make?

As hawfinches can be fairly hard to spot, hidden among the foliage of the upper canopy of woodlands, one way to positively ID the species is to learn to recognize their call, a sharp ‘tic’ sound, similar to that made by a robin. The song of the male hawfinch is a quiet, whistled series of flowing notes.


What do Hawfinches eat?

With their strong powerful beak, hawfinches can crush the outer shell of a cherry or plum stone with ease to reach the inner kernel. Fruit seeds are the key element of their diet, and food is mostly taken directly from trees.

Berries, and seeds from pine, spruce and hornbeam are also widely eaten and occasionally foraging takes place on the ground, where invertebrates are also caught, especially locusts, grasshoppers, beetles, worms and moths.

What do Hawfinch chicks eat?

Young hawfinches are initially fed on invertebrates, including small insects, caterpillars and larvae. Softer seeds are also regurgitated until juvenile birds master the art of cracking harder shells themselves.

Close up of a Hawfinch feeding on sunflower seeds

Close up of a Hawfinch feeding on sunflower seeds

Habitat & Distribution

What is the habitat of a Hawfinch?

For the best chance of seeing a hawfinch in its preferred habitat, head for mature broadleaf and coniferous forests, where dominant species include oak, horn-beam, beech, maple, pine, juniper, ash, elm and sycamore.

Woodlands that are crossed by rivers and streams are particularly popular, as well as plantations with wild and cultivated cherries, olives, plums and other fruit trees.

What is the range of a Hawfinch?

Central and southern Britain form the western extreme of the breeding range of hawfinches, and the species is present across northern Europe in spring and summer, as far east as Kazakhstan and Mongolia, and to the south from Spain, eastwards to northern Greece and northern Turkey.

In winter, southward migration is seen, with hawfinches wintering across Mediterranean Europe and north Africa, central Asia and southern and south-eastern China.

Where do Hawfinches live?

Up to 1.5 million pairs of hawfinches live across the species’ European range, with the highest concentrations in the Czech Republic, Germany and Romania. Around 100,000 pairs live and breed in Russia, with up to 10,000 more in Turkey.

Hawfinches are usually spotted in mature broadleaf and coniferous forests

Hawfinches are usually spotted in mature broadleaf and coniferous forests

How rare are Hawfinches?

During the breeding season, hawfinches are notoriously hard to spot, as their favourite spots are high in the canopy layer of mature woodland trees.

With only between 500 and 1,000 breeding pairs, they are considered a rare breeding species in the UK, although in winter, native numbers are boosted by the arrival of temporary migrants seeking refuge from extremely harsh conditions in continental Europe.

Where can you see Hawfinches in the UK?

In the British Isles, hawfinches have declined in many areas, with the main remaining strongholds found in western England near the Welsh Borders, the Home Counties and the south-east from Hampshire to Kent.

Sightings are also occasionally reported at conservation reserves such as Nagshead in Gloucestershire and Blean Woods in Kent.

Male foreground, and female background, Hawfinch pair perched on a rock

Male foreground, and female background, Hawfinch pair perched on a rock

Lifespan & Predation

How long do Hawfinches live?

Under typical circumstances, hawfinches can expect to live for between 2 and 5 years. The oldest individual recorded from ringing data was 10 years, while first time breeding takes place from one year of age.

What are the predators of Hawfinches?

Nests are often built in extremely vulnerable locations, for example in an exposed fork in a tree trunk. This leaves them open to predation, as nests are visible and lack the shelter offered by foliage, meaning their nests, eggs and young are frequently preyed on by woodland birds of prey such as sparrowhawks and goshawks, as well as squirrels and jays.

Are Hawfinches protected?

The Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 protects hawfinches against being deliberately killed, harmed or caught to be kept in captivity.

Are Hawfinches endangered?

With a maximum of 1,000 breeding pairs remaining in the UK, it’s no wonder that the hawfinch has red status on the British Birds of Conservation Concern list. However, across the species’ European range, it is not classed as under threat and is rated as being of least concern.

Male Hawfinch taking a drink of water

Male Hawfinch taking a drink of water

Nesting & Breeding

Where do Hawfinches nest?

Hawfinches select nest sites in the upper branches of well-established mixed woodland, in ivy, or in fruit trees. Nests are often placed in an easy-to-access spot, such as the fork of a tree, which can leave their nest and eggs vulnerable to predators.

Nest construction is started by the male hawfinch, who gathers dry twigs, grass and lichen to form a nest platform. Fine-tuning then passes to the female, who constructs a large, bulky cup using more twigs and grasses, and then lines it with plant fibres before laying begins.

What do Hawfinch eggs look like?

Hawfinch eggs can be a range of different colours, and are usually pale blue to greyish-green, but occasionally are pale buff or even pure white. Eggs measure 24×18 mm and are heavily streaked with blackish-brown spots and blotches.

The female hawfinch incubates the eggs alone for between 11 and 13 days, after which hatchlings are fed by both parents until they are ready to fledge at around 12 to 13 days.

Do Hawfinches mate for life?

Hawfinches form long-term pairs during the winter, and these have been observed to last beyond the end of a single breeding season.

Hawfinch nest with five eggs inside

Hawfinch nest with five eggs inside


Are Hawfinches aggressive?

Hawfinches will defend the territory around their nest site during the breeding season, and have been observed to live in loose colonies as well as in solitary pairs.

For the rest of the year they associate in larger flocks to forage together, with records of up to 1,200 birds gathering together ahead of migration.

Mixed species flocks may include greenfinches, siskins and bramblings, and one such huge influx of birds was observed at Yorkshire Arboretum in the autumn of 2017.

Where do hawfinches sleep at night?

Outside of the breeding season, hawfinches are known to roost communally, in the upper branches of woodland canopy.

Hawfinch with two Greenfinches, during the winter

Hawfinch with two Greenfinches, during the winter


Do Hawfinches migrate?

Throughout much of Europe, hawfinch populations are year-round residents, although across the continent numbers increase during winter months with the arrival of birds from the easternmost regions of their range in northern and central Asia.

Areas across southern and Mediterranean Europe do not have breeding populations of hawfinches, but provide overwintering grounds to hawfinch populations that breed in the northernmost extents of their distribution range.

Are Hawfinches native to the UK?

Between 500 and 1,000 pairs of hawfinches breed in the UK each year, and remain as residents throughout the year.

These native birds are joined by up to 15,000 migrant birds between October and March each year, typically relocating temporarily from Central Asia when local conditions make it harder to find food.

Hawfinch turning in flight, from below

Hawfinch turning in flight, from below


How to attract Hawfinches?

Hawfinches are particularly attracted to woodland with a diverse range of native tree species, and will thrive in areas such as arboretums, where they can forage at will for a range of different fruits and seeds.

On rare occasions, hawfinches may pay fleeting visits to back garden feeders, where sunflower seeds are a particular favourite.

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Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Coccothraustes coccothraustes



Conservation status:




16.5cm to 18cm


29cm to 33cm


48g to 62g

Learn more about the Hawfinch

Other birds in the Finches family

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