Anyone who has followed some of my recent posts may well have picked up that I love the bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Dansk: dompap). Both the male and female of the species have beautiful plumage and because of their scarcity I consider it a real bonus to see one. Apart from the very occasional sighting, i.e. one every 5 years or so, I simply didn’t encounter them between childhood and around 2 years ago.
Since then I’ve seen them on numerous occasions out and about on my wanderings around Cambridgeshire, both around Histon and at nature reserves such as RSPB Fowlmere and Fen Drayton, and to my immense pleasure a group has been resident in a patch of scrub close to where I live for the past 2-3 weeks. On one occasion over Christmas I saw eight in one go, and I can’t ever remember seeing that before.
A group flew over my head, too fast to photograph, but this lone male alighted on a bramble around 30m from me and let me edge to within 20m, shutter whirring all the way:
Male bullfinch – the tailend charlie perched on the brambles
He was very busy gorging on the brambles pausing to look at me when he was aware of my movements and when I stopped he carried on feeding. Many bullfinch pictures are of the male, resplendent in his sumptuous orange/pink waistcoat and I don’t mind that, but I was pleased to get the picture below as he flipped through 180 degrees to get to his bramble shoots:
Upside down bullfinch showing his dark grey back and tail, jet black primary flight feathers and white rump. No other bird could be mistaken for him.
The song of the bullfinch is also very distinctive. They make a fairly inobtrusive ‘cheep cheep‘ call which is unmistakeable when a group fly overhead.
My lone male replete after his feast sizing me up immediately prior to his departure
Flocks of bullfinch can decimate fruit crops by eating the shoots from the trees and were therefore heavily persecuted in tis country which led to a catastrophic decline in the numbers through the 1970’s and 80’s but I read in a recent report that they fared well as a result of the mild year we experienced in 2011, so I’m hoping there has been a general increase in their numbers and my small local flock will stay on and possibly expand. Fingers crossed.
If that comes to pass I should be able to post more shots of both the male and female bullfinch in the near future. At the moment I only have one photograph of a female as they seem to be generally more wary than the males. I’m also saving up to invest in more powerful optics so I should be able to bring you some better close up portrait shots of bullfinch, and lots of other species in the not too distant future. Watch this space.
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An excellent of these wonderful birds. They do seem to appear in larger flocks in winter and early spring. I would wonder if some of thes groups include migrants from further afield. The Northern Bullfinch is evidently a different subspecies altogether but it may be possible to see those on rare occasions too. As with all finches, especially the Goldfinch, they are evident in increasing numbers of late. A succession of good breeding success and more weedy areas on our farms may well explain these circumstances.