Species of the month

Species of the Month: Bullfinch

Male bullfinch © Bob Coyle

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Our Species of the Month species surveys are an important way you can help us.  Records are sent to DERC (Dorset Environmental Records Centre) who collate this information to build up a picture of the of the state of Dorset's wildlife. So please help us help wildlife by filling in the form below. Thank you!

Species of the Month: Bullfinch

Scientific Name: Pyrrhula pyrrhula 

Identification

The male bullfinch is unmistakable, with a bright pinkish-red chest & cheeks.  This smart bird has a grey back, black head & thick black bill.  You might see a flash of his white rump as he flies away! 

The female also has a black head, but her plumage is paler with a pinkish-fawn chest and a brown, rather than grey, back. 

In contrast to its ‘showy’ appearance, the bullfinch call is very understated.  Listen out for a short, quiet whistle. 

Diet

Bullfinches use their powerful beaks to eat shoots, berries and seeds.  They sometimes eat insects, but mainly catch them to feed their young.  In spring they can break off and eat flower buds, but this is a small price to pay for having such a stunning bird visit your garden!! 

Bullfinches are shy and infrequent garden visitors but, in winter, may be tempted by bird feeders. 

Behaviour

Bullfinches are present in the UK all year round.  They are reclusive birds of scrub and woodland and, despite their bright colours, are not easily seen. 

The female builds a flimsy nest of twigs and moss, lined with thin roots and hair.  The devoted parents share the responsibility of feeding their young, which fledge after 12-18 days. 

Did you know?

  • The Latin name is derived from Pyrrha meaning ‘flame coloured’.  The common UK name is much less complimentary, drawing attention to the ‘bull like’, neck-less body shape! 
  • In parts of mainland Europe, the bullfinch is a colourful symbol of Christmas. 
  • During the autumn & winter, more bullfinches arrive from Northern Europe.  Keep an eye out for these as they are more brightly coloured, slightly larger and much less shy! 
  • In the UK, bullfinch numbers are 36% lower than recorded in 1967, making them a species of ‘moderate conservation concern’ and on the amber list.  The loss of hedgerows and damage to woodland margins is believed to be the main cause of this decline, reducing the availability of suitable habitat for breeding.  Numbers have steadily improved since 2000 and with appropriate habitat management will hopefully continue to recover. 

Where can they be found?

Bullfinches shelter in the dense undergrowth of woodlands, hedges and shrubs.  They are occasional garden visitors, preferring rural gardens near woods (source: British Trust for Ornithology

Wildlife Gardening Tips

  • Bullfinches are found in only 10% of gardens, so if do see them you are very lucky indeed!  To increase your chances plant fruit trees, there are many varieties suitable for small gardens (eg. native Spindle, Rowan).  If you have more space, consider planting a thick native hedge to provide shelter. 
  • Keep providing food and water through the winter. 
  • Plant lots of pollinator friendly plants!  By attracting more insects to your garden, you may tempt in bullfinches collecting insects for their young. 
  • Join our campaign for more information on how you can help stop insect decline:  Take Action for Insects.

Species of the Month sightings form

Your details will only be used by Dorset Wildlife Trust and we will never give your information to other organisations to use for their own purposes. You can change your communications preference at any time by contacting us on 01202 692033. When you have completed the form, please click the Send button.

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Blue tit © Stewart Canham