Bullfinches are one of the easier birds to identify in the UK, with their characteristic red-pink breast and cheeks. The name is said to describe the bull-like appearance of the bird with its compact, neck-less body shape and short, deep bill. Males sport this plumage in the brightest of reds, whereas females are duller in comparison with a grey-pink breast, brown back, and cheeks. Both sexes have the distinctive black cap, white rump, and black tail. The tail is slightly forked, and the legs are brown.
Juveniles look more like the adult female, with dull plumage but their black cap is markedly absent.
Average Length: 14-17 cm
Average Lifespan: 2 Years
Average Wingspan: 22-26cm
Bullfinches have a changeable diet along with the seasons. Its round bill is used to eat flowers, buds and shoots when they first appear in spring. Flower buds are their favourite as they are more nutritious and can eat up to 30 a minute! In summertime into winter, they tend to eat more seeds and berries, only catching insects to feed their chicks. Bullfinches are unique in the finch family, as they have developed food sacs positioned in the floor of the mouth, which allows them to carry more food back to their chicks in one trip.
How to feed: Bird feeders
What to feed: Sunflower seeds, nyger seeds, and seed mixtures
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.
Bullfinches lay on average 2-3 broods a year often between May-July, with 4-5 eggs laid, hatching after around 14 days.
The destruction of our native woodland and hedgerows has no doubt contributed to the population decline seen in bullfinches over the last 50 years. The intensification and improvement of agricultural practices may also have a knock-on effect, with less seed available during the colder months.
Supplementary feeding on bird feeders using seeds or suet cakes
Avoid using garden chemicals
Plant thick hedges in gardens that provide habitat, food and dense cover, or fruit trees.
The bullfinches scientific name (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) comes from the Greek word purrhos meaning 'flame-coloured' referring to the male's redbreast.
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Pyrrhula pyrrhula. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 29/05/2022.
Newton, I. (1993) Studies of West Palearctic birds: Bullfinch. British Birds. 86:638-648
Robinson, R.A. (2005) BirdFacts: profiles of birds occurring in Britain & Ireland. BTO, Thetford (http://www.bto.org/birdfacts, accessed on 29 May 2022)
Stanbury, A.J., Eaton, M.A., Aebischer, N.J., Balmer, D., Brown, A.F., Douse, A., Lindley, P., McCulloch, N., Noble, D.G., Win, I. (2021) The status of our bird populations: the fifth Birds of Conservation Concern in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man and second IUCN Red List assessment of extinction risk for Great Britain. British Birds. 114
Sirwardena, G.M., Freeman, S.N., Crick, H.Q.P. (2001) The Decline of the Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula in Britain: is the Mechanism Known? Acta Ornithologica. 36(2):143-152.
Woodward, I., Aebischer, N., Burnell,D., Eaton, M., Frost, T., Hall, C., Stroud, D. & Noble, D. (2020) Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. British Birds. 113: 69–104.