Clock in with garden beauty

No.:  2012-38
October 2012

New results from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Garden Bird Feeding Survey (GBFS) – the longest-running survey of garden birds in the world – show that record numbers of the resplendent Bullfinch are using garden feeding stations. As the clocks go back and we get lighter mornings at breakfast time, the BTO is encouraging householders to look out for this cracking bird.

Bullfinch by Jill Pakenham

Gardens appear to be particularly important
for Bullfinches

The stunning and normally shy Bullfinch is being spotted in unprecedented numbers at garden feeding stations, new results from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) reveal. Gardens appear to be particularly important for Bullfinches. Their overall breeding population dropped sharply during the 1970s and 1980s, and has remained at a similar level since. The same decline did not happen in gardens, however, and since the mid-1990s the number of Bullfinches coming to feeders has exhibited more than a six-fold increase.

These eye-catching results suggest that Bullfinches are following in the wing-beats of Goldfinches, profiting from modern bird foods, such as sunflower hearts, and from new feeder designs. They also indicate that bird feeders may be compensating for food shortages elsewhere. Bullfinches rely mainly on seeds during winter, but important weeds, including chickweed, dandelion and sorrel, are harder to find in our modern intensively managed landscapes.

Mike Dilger, naturalist on The One Show and author of the book My Garden and Other Animals, speaks effusively about this species: “Bullfinches are, quite simply, my favourite garden bird. Watching this dapper and yet surprisingly acrobatic species in my garden provided me with a real ‘road to Damascus’ moment in my birdwatching life recently, as I watched a male hover like a turbo-charged hummingbird whilst systematically relieving a dandelion clock of its seeds. It opened up my eyes to both the wonderful birds and amazing behaviour that can be seen right on our own doorsteps. It’s so exciting that more and more people are getting to see this gorgeous garden bird.”

Bullfinches prefer certain gardens over others. Notably, they like thick cover that accommodates their reclusive habits, so mature vegetation in and around gardens is ideal. Gardens in the west of the UK have the highest reporting rates, with more Welsh householders hosting Bullfinches than those in England and Scotland.

Dr Tim Harrison, of the BTO Garden Ecology Team, commented: “After an extra hour in bed, why not take a look out of your window to see which birds are visiting your garden? Who knows, you might just spot a real garden beauty – the brilliant Bullfinch. The BTO wants your sightings – whichever birds you see, at whatever time of year, make your garden count for conservation with us.”

For a free information pack on how to become a garden citizen scientist with the BTO, email gbw [at] bto.org or telephone 01842-750050.

Notes for Editors

  1. The GBFS trend for Bullfinches can be seen here, while the breeding population trend can be seen here. For more facts and figures about Bullfinches, see BTO BirdFacts.
  2. The GBFS started in the winter of 1970–71 to examine the increasingly popular activity of providing food for birds in gardens and is the longest-running study of its kind in the world. Observations are made on a weekly basis from October to March, with the maximum number of each species seen using food or water provided, or observed hunting the birds that are using these resources, recorded. The GBFS encompasses approximately 250 gardens across the UK each year.
  3. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research organisation. Over thirty thousand birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys. They collect information that forms the basis of conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Norfolk,  Stirling and Bangor, who analyse and publicise the results of project work. The BTO's investigations are funded by government, industry and conservation organisations.
  4. The clocks go back this year on Sunday 28th October.
  5. Mike Dilger’s experiences with Bullfinches are brought to life in his new book: My Garden and Other Animals.

Contact Details

Tim Harrison
(GBFS Contact)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: tim.harrison [at] bto.org

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at] bto.org

Images are available for use alongside this News Release
Please contact images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2012-38

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews
Please contact us to book an interview
Office: 01842 750050