The Bluegown Blog

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OBVIOUS BIRDS #79: Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

By alicebg, Nov 2 2017 08:25PM

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The Bullfinch is one of those birds that fell foul of changing agricultural practices - one that was once common to the point of being regarded a pest, but now is something of a rarity. What is unsettling about this decline is that it was in part hastened by direct persecution.

The Bullfinch is a genuinely spectacular bird. Indeed, it is one of the most striking British birds. A stocky bruiser of a Finch, the males are stunningly coloured in vivid red, black, grey and white. Unusually, the females are equally impressive in their equivalent garb of dusky pink. A Bullfinch pair is as striking a birdwatching 'cop' as you can hope for.

The Bullfinch's undoing was its fondness, in spring, for budding fruit trees. Given a ready, compact food source, the birds would once gather in large flocks to attack orchards and this led to direct intervention from farmers and growers - indeed, in many parts of the country there was for centuries a bounty on Bullfinches, and their routine culling continued up until very recent history. More recently, fruit growing has dwindled - certainly in my region - and this ironically seems to have caused a steeper decline than culling ever managed, along with the usual pressures on habitat and general mechanisation of agriculture.

Happily for me, I live in a part of the world where the Bullfinch still has a niche, even if it is far from being the everyday occurrence it once was. Among the varied environments on my beloved local 'marsh' is a disused railway line, flanked by dense hedgerows of blackthorn and hawthorn. These are, especially in winter, a repository for various small birds, with Bullfinches a particularly welcome attraction. It gladdens my heart to know, in an era of scarcity, that these lovely birds are well, if not exactly thriving, on my patch.

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