One of the commoner garden visitors that has never graced my bird feeders is, the Bullfinch.  I know folk who have them feeding regularly on Sunflower Hearts, an attractive and top grade foodstuff, but not out our way!

A male under cover (c. Oran O’Sullivan)

However, they are regular enough visitors to our garden, heard if not seen in most weeks.  To make contact with one, you need to get outside amongst the boundary hedges.  For such a showy bird, they remain in cover typically, and can be missed.  A high, mixed hedgerow is ideal cover for them.  The first sign of their presence is likely to be the subtle little contact call: ‘phew’..‘phew’.  If they decide to break cover (I usually see two at a time), a second call may be heard: ‘butt, butt, butt, butt.., a little more lively and tinkling.  As they fly, you are most likely to see the wrap around white rump, on both males and females, as they pass over.

I see Bullfinches at distinct times of the year: January/February, they move onto Hawthorns to feed on the emerging buds.  Historically, they have a poor reputation for damaging emerging buds on ornamental fruit and commercial fruit.  However, in reality they are fairly catholic in their diet, buds seed and weeds from a vast variety of plants and weeds are all sought after.

A male feeding in a mound of Cranesbill (c. Oran O’Sullivan)

The second period for Bullfinches in our garden is round about now.  The hardy perennials are seeding and in particular, the Cranesbills, such as Geranium phaeum.  This plant is prolific and at the moment forms clumps of deep purple, four petaled blossoms, bedecked with bees. There are also plenty of seed pods (from which the plant gets its common name) from the earlier flowers and it is these that the Bullfinches are seeking out. The Bullfinches, two males and a female, are well hidden in the tangle of the Cranesbill plants, finding a strong perch and then leaning into the seed heads and squeezing the pod with their squat bills to reveal the whitish seed capsules.  An alternative feeding strategies include hovering in front of the plant and more successfully perhaps, dropping to the ground to retrieve fallen morsels.

Not quite a Hovercraft! (c. Oran O’Sullivan)

I will enjoy the summer spectacle of these showy birds, and look forward to seeing them again in the autumn and early winter, as they move onto seeds of Dock plants and brambles, to name just two from a long list.  As long as there are a variety of feeding opportunities I will continue to see Bulllfinches and our few ornamental fruit trees won’t be compromised.

Female with a beak full of seed capsules (c. Oran O’Sullivan)