Bullfinch

Bullfinch is a striking bird found across the UK throughout the year. The adult male has bright pink underparts and a black head and face. Although seen in gardens it is more commonly associated with scrub and woodland. UK Bullfinch populations have declined by 36% since 1967 and are one of the species we hope to be able to investigate as part of the Beyond the maps research programme.  

Easily overlooked

Bullfinch can be quite easily overlooked in summer as they are fairly unobtrusive and quiet in behaviour. When seen they’re often in pairs or small loose flocks.

According to the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch, Bullfinch is typically seen in fewer than 10% of gardens in any week, preferring rural gardens connected to small woodlands.

Bullfinch feed on seeds and shoots of fruit trees and sometimes on insects in summer. However, during the spring Bullfinch can sometimes be considered a pest species as they feed on and damage the buds of fruiting trees, such as cherry. In extreme cases Bullfinches have been controlled under licence.

Identification

A large finch with a compact body. Adults have a black head and face, grey back, black tail and white rump. Adult males have bright pink-red underparts, whereas the female has greyish-buff underparts. Juveniles have a brown head and face. In flight the white rump patch and broad off-white wing bar is fairly obvious.

The call is a quiet low-pitched short whistle, or fluted ‘phu’ note.
 

History

The name is said to describe the bull-like appearance of the bird with its compact, neck-less body shape and short, deep bill. In Victorian times Bullfinch were a desired captive bird because of their beautiful plumage and call. It is believed that the caged bird could be trained to mimic music and it became a popular pastime to play a special flute to the bird.

Breeding and nesting

Bullfinch can be found breeding across Britain and Ireland, with a preference for mixed woodland, parks, large gardens and some coniferous forest. However, they are not found breeding in areas of open space such as upland and coastal habitats.

Bullfinches appear to maintain a pair bond throughout the year. They lay 4–5 eggs in a nest, 4–7 feet above the ground, made from fine twigs, moss and lichens lined with a thick layer of fine roots. 

Population decline

The UK population is currently 36% lower than in 1967. It is believed that deteriorating habitat quality, caused by agricultural intensification and reduced diversity in woodlands have played a part in these declines.

Conservation concern

Bullfinch is currently listed as an ‘amber’ species of conservation concern because of its recent breeding population decline.

Bullfinch numbers declined steeply during 1977–82 especially in farmland. The decline eased during the mid 1980s and has upturned since 2000. However, the UK numbers are currently 36% lower than in 1967.

Changes identified by Bird Atlas

The data collected by volunteers for the Bird Atlases have provided us with distribution maps for birds, such as Bullfinch, in Britain and Ireland.

We’ve been able to use these data to identify patterns of abundance, and measure how distribution and abundance of Bullfinch has changed since previous atlases.

The Bird Atlas 2007–11 has uncovered some noticeable changes to Bullfinch distributions:

  • There has been little change in the overall breeding range since the first breeding atlas in 1968–72, although there have been some gains in western Ireland, some Inner Hebridean Islands and in northern and western Scotland
  • Since 1988–91 breeding abundance has declined throughout southeast England and parts of northeast Scotland since 1988-91. Over the same period, abundance increased notably in Ireland - Irish breeding bird monitoring shows population increase of 39% during 1998–2010
  • A 9% winter range expansion in Britain & Ireland since 1981–84, mostly in north and west

How can I help?

The regional changes in the breeding range of Bullfinch are yet to be explained. Without insight into these gains and losses it will be difficult to inform conservation action for this species. Why is it for example that Bullfinches linger in the suburbs of Edinburgh but not many other cities? Understanding what makes places suitable and others not could help us plan greener cities in future. 

As part of a 2 year program of scientific research called ‘Beyond the maps’ we hope to analyse the data gathered for Bird Atlas 2007–11 to help us to understand the reasons for these changes. This research would not be possible without the support of people like you.

To help us undertake this important research please donate to the Beyond the maps research today.

Donateto Beyond the Maps

More BirdFacts for this species Bird Trends report for Bullfinch

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