Monday, 26 February 2018

Irish Garden Birds - Bulky Bullfinches

We're into the final week of this winters Irish Garden Bird Survey, and with a record-breaking cold snap set to hit the country this week it's really important that you provide your garden birds with both food and fresh (unfrozen!) water to see them through to the nesting period.

Some species are notorious for appearing in gardens in the last few weeks of the survey when natural foods in the countryside have been depleted, so be sure to keep an eye out in the coming days to see if you can add to your species total for the winter!


Species Profile:

As Gaeilge: ‘Corcan coille

Irish Bird Survey Ranking 2016/2017: 21st place, occurring in just over 40% of gardens. 

Conservation status: Green-listed in Ireland. BirdLife International has evaluated the European population as Secure.

Male Bullfinch on BirdWatch Ireland's 'Wings' magazine back in 2010. Photo by E. Dempsey

Did You Know?
  1. Bullfinches get their name from their heavy build and thick “bullish” neck, compared to most other common finches.
  2. Their scientific name is Pyrrhula pyrrhula - pyrrhula means 'flame coloured bird' in latin.
  3. Their large stubby bill is specially adapted for eating buds, and they're particularly fond of buds on fruit trees like apple, pear and cherry trees. This unfortunately means they can be quite problematic in commercial orchards. There is research that indicates a fruit tree can lose half its buds without the harvest being affected however, so their impact on orchards can be overstated!
  4. Bullfinches are more often than not seen in pairs and they form strong and lasting pair bonds. Both males and females have a large black cap, a grey back, black wings with a pale wing bar, a black tail and a white rump above the tail which can be a useful way to identify them in flight. Males have a strong-red belly, while females and juveniles are a much duller brown colour.
  5. There are 7 subspecies of Bullfinch. Those in northern Europe are significantly bigger than the ones we get in Ireland.

Female Bullfinch. Photo by J. Fox

How long do they live?

Bullfinches live to be about 2 years old. The oldest recorded Bullfinch in Ireland and the UK was over 12 years of age (that’s 6 times its expected lifespan!)

What do they feed on?

Its diet mainly consists of the buds of native trees (Oak, Cherry, Hawthorn) as well as seeds and berries. They also take insects when feeding their young.

Male Bullfinch. Photo by M. Finn

Irish Garden Bird Survey Trends:
Last year Bullfinches were recorded in a little over 40% of gardens; putting them in 21st position in the Irish Garden Bird Survey. Since winter 1994/95 they've had some ups and downs but have always ranked somewhere between 20th and 30th place, with one exception in 1997/98 when they reached 17th place - their highest ranking to date.

Average numbers of Bullfinches per garden each winter (blue) and averaged out over a rolling 5-year period (orange).

Since the mid-1990's there has been an increase in the average number of Bullfinches per garden, an increase which is also evident from our summer Countryside Bird Survey (CBS) results (see graph left). Part of their increase in gardens is likely a result of relatively recent use of garden bird feeders.

Movements and Migration:

In Ireland, Bullfinches are resident, with very few ring recoveries between Ireland/UK and mainland Europe. In general they will stay close to where they breed, but periods during the winter will likely have them moving further afield in search of food. They're not territorial outside the breeding season though, so if you're lucky you might see a few together, though they don't tend to flock together like Chaffinches, Greenfinches or Goldfinches.

Their preferred habitat is broadleaf and conifer woodland, so if you have some nice woodland nearby or some big trees in your garden you're more likely to get them visiting.

How can I help Bullfinches?

Providing bullfinches with feeders with their favorite seeds (such as sunflower seeds) can aid in their survival, especially during cold weather at this time of year when natural food sources have been depleted. See our range of bird feeders and feeds on our website:

The BirdWatch Ireland shop - visit us in Kilcoole or order via phone or on our website. 

And finally...
Your BirdWatch Ireland Membership Pack.
A reminder too that one of the best things you can do to help birds and wildlife in Ireland is add your voice to the cause by becoming a member of BirdWatch Ireland
Blackbirds tend to survive well in a  variety of habitats, but other species need our protection or we could lose them from Ireland completely. We protect Ireland's birds and wildlife through our conservation projects, through our monitoring projects that let us know what species are in trouble and where, and through our policy and advocacy work where we lobby politicians and other groups to ensure that our birds and wildlife have a voice!

BirdWatch Ireland members receive our 'Wings' magazine four times per year.

We have numerous membership options available, and all members receive our Wings magazine four times a year, as well as garden and seabird posters when you join!

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The Irish Garden Bird Survey is over for another winter!

Time flies when you're having fun! The 2018/19 Irish Garden Bird Survey is now over! It's been quite a mild winter overall...