Bullfinches, Pyrrhula pyrrhula, and How to Help Them.

by Judith John.

Bullfinch are resident in the UK and are found in woodland, scrub and orchards. They are sometimes seen in gardens especially those connected to a patch of thick scrub or woodland by thick hedgerows. UK bullfinches tend not to move more than a few kilometres during their lifetime and form strong, lasting pair bonds so they are often seen in pairs throughout the year.

Adults feed on berries and seeds such as dock, nettle, ash, birch and bramble. They also eat buds in spring which has led to their persecution in the past. They nest in thick scrub, dense hedgerows and scrubby woodland 1-2 metres above ground.

The nest is a loose structure of twigs, lichens and moss, lined with hair and fine roots. 4-5 eggs are laid in April/May, then incubated for 12-14 days by the female who is fed by the male during this time. When the eggs hatch both parents feed the chicks on insects. Young fledge at 12-18 days and the adults often have a second brood. In winter, residents can be joined by the slightly larger relatives from northern Europe.

Records for Bromley borough in 2017 were all from rural areas or near to parks which included areas of woodland and scrub. These included Lilly's Wood, the Cudham and Downe Valleys, Darrick Wood, Keston, Jubilee Country Park, Scadbury Park, adjacent to Walden Recreation Ground, near Crofton Woods/Parkfield Recreation Ground, and in South Norwood Country Park. The bullfinch survey will continue and it is hoped there will be further records, particularly from the Elmstead Woods/Sundridge Park area, Monks Orchard/Park Langley area and along the Rivers Ravensbourne and Cray.

Threats to bullfinch

According to the British Trust for Ornithology, breeding bullfinch numbers fell by more than 50% between 1970 and 2000 (BTO). UK numbers have been slowly improving, but there are few records for Bromley. Those received in 2017 are mainly from rural or semi-rural areas or adjacent to open spaces with hedgerows and scrub. Further records are needed, so surveying will continue in 2018, but some measures can be put in place.

Measures to help Bullfinch in Bromley

1. To increase nesting sites and improve numbers of seeds and insects for adult and young bullfinches, promote wild areas in your local park, school and sports grounds and garden, plant hedgerows of native species and maintain some areas of bramble scrub. Native plants generally support more insects than non-native species.

2. Link wild areas via thick hedgerows.

3. Decrease pesticide and herbicide use and encourage others to do the same.

4. Feed birds in your garden.

5. If you have a cat, keep it indoors between dusk and dawn and use a collar with a bell or ultrasonic device.

This article is copyright © Judith John 2018.