Bullfinches

Fascinating Facts 

The beautiful bullfinch is a welcome but rare visitor to our gardens. Only in recent years has this shy bird started using garden feeders, being attracted by sunflower and niger seeds.

Easily identifiable, both sexes have a stout black bill, black wings, nape, crown and chin, and a white rump. The tail is slightly forked and the legs are brown.

The handsome male has a blue-grey back and bright rose-pink breast, belly and cheeks whilst the female has a brown back and pinkish-fawn underparts.

bullfinch pair

The juveniles are like the adult female, but do not have black caps.

The name is said to describe the bull-like appearance of the bird with its compact, neck-less body shape and short, deep bill. The bullfinches scientific name (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) comes from the Greek word purrhos meaning 'flame-coloured' referring to the male's redbreast.

Bullfinches will feed on seeds until supplies run low in late winter, early spring. They will then turn to the buds of fruiting trees. Flower buds being their favourite as they are more nutritious and can eat up to 30 a minute!

Breeding bullfinch pairs seem to remain together over several breeding seasons, usually nesting in shrubs or bushes in woodland, orchards or agricultural farmland. The nest, which is a flimsy, loose structure of twigs and moss-lined with fine roots and hair, is built by the female. 

bullfinch nest

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.

When numbers were high during the 1950's to the mid 1970's their liking for flower buds made them considered a pest of commercial fruit trees. This led to a licenced control of the species.

 Bullfinches have specially developed food sacs positioned in the floor of the mouth, which allows them to carry more food back to their chicks in one trip. They are the only species of finch to have such food sacs.

They are specialist seed and bud eaters, and only eat insects briefly during summer whilst feeding their young.