The Bullfinch is the jewel of our woods: the bright colours of the male contrast with the elegant sobriety of the female. However, it is a discreet bird, which does not like to show itself in the open. Its short, sharp-edged beak is a great tool for detaching buds, breaking shells and peeling seeds. During the cold season the species can also be observed in more inhabited areas. Today, however, perhaps due to mild winters with little snow, the number of winter guests getting closer to men has decreased.
It is not a “territorial” species, nor does the Bullfinch like to attract particular attention. Its appeal is mainly addressed to individuals of the opposite sex. The courtship ritual is extraordinary, during which the male courts the female with delicacy and grace, accompanying her whistling with a little dance. Individuals usually travel in pairs, only rarely in large groups. It can also get used to the presence of man and is known for its ability to learn: in fact the Bullfinch has a real passion for music covers and it’s really easy to teach these birds short melodies!
Everything you need to know about the Bullfinch:
The scientific name is Pyrrhula pyrrhula, famous as early as the 17th century, this little bird is a talented sound imitator and has been bred for centuries for its extraordinary ability to learn a large number of motifs and reproduce them flawlessly!
But there’s more: according to research conducted by birds behaviourists, these birds would be able to modulate their melodies in the same way as humans. And when someone interrupts them, they do not simply resume from the beginning, but start singing from the point where they left off. According to the study they would even be able to divide the melody into smaller units, made from 4 to 12 notes. In short, with excellent singing and calculation skills: success is guaranteed for these little and nice musicians!
- Scientific name: Pyrrhula pyrrhula.
- Weight: 21 – 27 g.
- Wingspan: 22 – 26 g.
- Age: Up to 12 years.
- Diet: Seeds and buds.
- Habitat: Coniferous forests and urban areas.
- Threats: The most important threats to the species are represented by illegal hunting in the wild and by illegal fowling: thanks to its ability to adapt to the presence of man, it is among the most sought after species to be kept in cages. Another threat may come from the elimination of the undergrowth, which can reduce the availability of suitable habitat for nesting. It is also a very sensitive species to the fragmentation of forest habitats.
The adult male has grey shoulders and back with and a completely black upper tail. The wings are black with an evident white and grey bar on the inside. The top of he head, the area around the eyes and a tiny bib are black and so is the beak. Throat, cheeks, chest, abdomen and hips are orange-red. The legs are grey-black.
The adult females are almost completely the same as the adult males with the variant of the coloration of the throat, cheeks, chest, abdomen and sides which are instead tawny grey. The young are almost the same as the adult females with, however, the light brown top of the head and dark grey beak.
The Bullfinch can be seen throughout Europe, Asia and Siberia, its natural habitat is in parks, gardens, cultivated areas, mountains, hills and mixed forests. Although very resistant to cold, this specimen tends to move to the plains or at lower altitudes, during the winter. He calmly gets used to the presence of man, even if he tends not to expose himself too much. Once the male chooses the female, he will stay with her forever, they do not tend to separate, in fact, this specimen moves mainly with the partner, only in exceptional cases as part of larger groups.
Bullfinches feed on a wide variety of seeds, even those with a more robust shell, which they can easily open with their strong beak. They also love vegetables such as broccoli, berries such as firethorns and hawthorn, while in the reproductive period they also look for small insects and larvae to feed their young.
The breeding season goes from April all the way through to August. The brood normally has between 4 and 5 blueish eggs with red-violet and black spots on. The female will hatch two or three times a year for about 2 weeks each time. Both parents will take care of the chicks, which show an obvious brownish livery as soon as they are born. The nursing time of the offspring generally lasts 16-17 days. The species is distinguished by strictly monogamous habits: once formed, the couple hardly splits.
Starting from the mid-1960s, the populations of Bullfinches seem not to have undergone dramatic transformations both in terms of numbers and in terms of distribution in most of its European range. Small decreases alternated with small increases occurred, but always limited to a local level. The conservation status of the Bullfinch is therefore assessed as favourable, both in the European Union and on the rest of the continent. The highest densities in Europe are found in correspondence with dense shrubs, where 20 pairs per square km can be reached. In forest environments the detected densities are constantly decreasing.
From the point of view of habitat management, the maintenance of the undergrowth in forest environments and of hedges and rows in hilly agricultural contexts would be particularly favourable to the species. Finally, interventions for the creation of new wooded areas would be of great benefit for the Bullfinch that would allow the creation of “ecological connections” between different areas of presence of the species that currently host isolated populations.
Federico Fiorillo is an Italian nature guide and content writer based in the magnificent Val de Bagnes, Switzerland. He’s an avid hiker and snowboarder and he travels to the great wilderness areas of the world to see the wildlife and birds he’s passionate about.
In 2008 and 2011 he joined two Brazilian wildlife field trips in Bahia and decided that observing birds in their habitat was going to be one of his driving passions. He completed a birdwatching course with EBN Italia in 2013, and then in 2014 and 2015 he travelled to South East Asia, Australia and the United States where he joined a photographic workshop at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah.
From 2016 to 2018 he lives in New Zealand, where he collaborates in environmental projects at the Otorohanga Kiwi House, which since 1971 protects kiwi and other New Zealand native birds, among the projects he worked hands on the most rewarding was the one aiming to release Brown Kiwis into the wild.
In 2017, he completes a backcountry survival course obtaining the skillsets needed to thrive in-stead of just survive in the face of adversity in the wilderness. In 2017 he also joins a NZ Bird Photography Tour in Ulva Island and at the Royal Albatross Center of the Otago Peninsula, home to the world’s only mainland Royal Albatross breeding colony.
After his travels across the South Pacific, following his experiences in 2018 he moves in the Swiss Alps where he’s now a nature guide leading tours in the alpine region between Switzerland, Italy and France. Leading nature walks and overnight hiking trips, teaching tourists and locals the secrets of the plants and animals living in this alpine region.
Inspired by an alternative lifestyle he believes in the importance of being in connection with the natural environment and feels the responsibility of interpreting the natural wealth of a site, educating and informing other of the different aspects of that particular area.