bright red underparts of a male Bullfinch can provide a rare splash
of colour on a grey winter's day but their habit of destroying fruit-tree
buds means they are not universally popular. Bullfinches are big, fat
finches which can be most easily identified by their neat, jet black
caps or their obvious square white rumps, as if the base of the tail
has been wrapped in white bandage. Females are browner than males, lacking
the red front and grey back. Juveniles lack the black cap but can still
be told by their fat, bull-necked appearance and short but very deep
black bill, as well as the conclusive white rump.
Seeds of fleshy fruits and herbs, buds, and shoots; invertebrates important
in diet of young. Forages in woodland, thickets, hedgerows, etc., some
moving to open country, large gardens, or orchards in late autumn to
early spring; hardly ever feeds more than c. 10 m from cover. Generally
extracts seeds from fruit on plant, since only large seeds can be picked
up from ground because of bill shape; small seed-heads and sometimes
small fruits may be bitten off and carried to ground for removal of
seeds. In tree or bush, either extracts seeds from fruit in situ, leaving
skin and pulp hanging, or mandibulates fruit by turning it in bill with
tongue, removing pulp against lower mandible and swallowing seeds, sometimes
without de-husking; bites into fruits and soft seed-heads much more
than other Fringillidae of region and bill well-adapted to this.
Vocal repertoire large, similar in and ; probably related to need for
effective communication in dense vegetation in which vocal signals are
usually given. In captivity has ability to learn and imitate human music.
Song of distinctive timbre, but neither loud nor very different in quality
from other calls; highly variable between individuals. Consists of varied
units, many in pairs, often continuing (without marked pauses) for several
minutes. Given either as ‚directed song‘ as part of courtship-display,
or as ‚undirected song‘ usually at a distance from other
individuals. Both categories of song given by both and , most commonly
by. ‚Directed song‘ audible only within a few metres, sometimes
only evident from throat movements; ‚undirected song‘ usually
louder, audible up to c. 20 m. Most familiar call a plaintive, piping
‚phew‘, given by both sexes all year. Birds separated from
mates give repeated ‚phew‘ calls which function as long-distance
contact-calls, and variants of this call given in other contexts. Repertoire
includes several other, mainly monosyllabic, calls, including hoarse,
monosyllabic ‚hhwhore‘, or ‚phee-yore‘ (hiss
preceded by whistled note similar to ‚phew‘), given with
bill wide open, in head-forward threat posture; almost exclusively by
when threatening .
Sedentary to migratory; probably most populations partially migratory.
Winters chiefly within breeding range, those breeding at high levels
tending to make altitudinal movements. Most migrants move short or medium
distances, but some (apparently chiefly from Russia) move longer distances;
in northern and central Europe, no evidence that northern populations
move further than southern ones. North European birds move within wider
compass than central European birds. Also eruptive migrant; numbers
migrating show marked annual fluctuations; no link with particular food
source established. Autumn migration begins late, and is fairly brief,
mostly October-November; spring migration February-April.
are in serious trouble in Britain, with the population down by 62 per
cent in 35 years.
UK Bullfinch population has been in decline since the mid-1970s, following
a period of relative stability. The decline was initially rapid, but
has been shallower since the early 1980s. Nevertheless, the CES and
BBS both suggest that the decline is continuing, at least in southern
Britain. The demographic mechanism remains unclear (Siriwardena et al.
1999, 2000b), although agricultural intensification is suspected to
have played a part. CES data indicate that productivity has increased
over the last decade, and nest failure rates at the chick stage (15
days) have fallen from 37% to 21%.
Across Europe and Asia from the British Isles through Japan.
Except for in Japan and Britain, where they inhabit deciduous woodland and cultivated grounds, Bulfinches are found in coniferous or mixed woodlands.