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.

2018 records were again all from rural areas or near to woodland, or parks and other open spaces with woodland and/or scrub. They included areas where they had been recorded in 2017 such as near Jubilee Country Park, Scadbury Park and High Elms and areas where they had not previously been recorded such as Snag Lane, Spring Park, West Wickham Common, gardens near Elmstead Woods, adjacent to the River Ravensbourne in Queensmead Recreation Ground, a garden near Bromley Civic Centre and another adjacent to Ravensbourne School playing fields and countryside on the opposite side of Hayes Lane.

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. The surveys carried out in 2017 and 2018 show bullfinch, though not present in large numbers, is widely distributed within the London Borough of Bromley, so this survey will be discontinued. Efforts to help improve bullfinch numbers must continue, including trying to link areas where they have been reported, especially in the more urban areas.

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 2019.