Identification

Bullfinches are round, portly birds seemingly almost neckless, with a bold black mask and cap. Males have pinky-red fronts, and females chocolate brown, with slate grey back and shoulders and a whitish wing patch.
Often seen in mixed pairs, they are relatively non-territorial and may form loose groups of pairs.

Size

Bullfinches are a little larger than sparrow, with a more rounded appearance. Length 15.5-17.5cm.

Distribution

Relatively widely distributed south of Sheffield, with concentrations around the Severn, in the South East and the Southwest. Further north distribution is more patchy but it is still found in the north of Scotland. Northern Ireland, particularly the south western corner, appears to be a stronghold.

Status

Despite their relatively wide range, bullfinch breeding populations have declined by more than a half in the past 25 years. This places them on the red list of birds of conservation concern in the UK, requiring urgent action to halt their decline. Bullfinches are a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species, with positive actions including sympathetic management of hedgerows, establishment and management of mixed woodlands and restoration of neglected orchards. The bullfinch is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Habitat preferences

Their natural habitat is mixed woodland, orchards and hedgerows, and they are not usually seen in gardens.

Where to find them in the garden

A shy bird, rarely seen at bird tables and more likely to nest in woodland than near humans.

Role in the garden

Bullfinches eat a wide range of wild fruits, weed seeds and some insects, sometimes hovering to gather food but seldom venturing very far from cover to feed.

When seeds become scarce in winter and spring, they may target tree buds, eating up to 45 fruit buds a minute although fruit trees can lose up to 50 percent of their buds without any subsequent loss of fruit harvested.