The bullfinch

David Chapman

The blossom-pinching bullfinch doesn't have the best reputation, but how can such a beautiful bird be disliked by anyone, asks David Chapman.



The truth is that the bullfinch has had a bad reputation in Britain since the 16th century when it was first regarded as a pest for eating the blossom and buds of apple and pear trees.

It seems to have a preference for certain types of apple trees, being less likely to eat the blossom of cooking apples than dessert varieties. In the bullfinch’s defense, it has been shown that a fruit tree can lose half of its blossom without affecting its overall production of fruit since it will naturally produce a surplus.

The name ‘bull’ finch was derived from the bird’s bull-necked appearance; it is of stocky build with a very strong beak. An alternative name for the bullfinch is ‘bud-bird’ for obvious reasons.

Despite its attractive colours the bullfinch is very difficult to see and the best way to find one is to get to know its call. It has a gentle but persistent ‘few-few’ call which is often made from amidst hedgerows.

Pairs, which remain together for life, are continually in contact with each other making this appear a rather romantic creature.

The female’s brown attire is not quite as colourful as the male’s but for me the bullfinch’s plumage is the most seductive of any bird seen in the garden. The sight of its sumptuous soft feather detail and the gloriously rosy breast of the male is easily enough to forgive it a few understandable transgressions.

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