Friday, 8 January 2010


The small copse is a mass of thorns and bramble, with a few taller trees providing a degree of elevation that seems to favour the finches and thrushes that attend the small feeding station that has been set up here. The copse is practically an extension to the neighbouring wood but it has a very different character. While the wood is wet, a small spring feeding a clear stream that flows the short distance into the river, the copse is on higher ground, dry in nature and with different trees and shrubs its constituent parts. I often stop here on my way home from one of my walks, the feeding station attracting a mix of birds and affording good opportunities to view them at close range. This morning, the chaffinches, tits, blackbirds and thrushes are joined by redwings (which gorge themselves on the few berries that remain) and two bramblings (close relatives of the more familiar chaffinch). However, it is the bullfinches that I have come to see, since this is the one spot locally where you can practically guarantee seeing these delightful finches. Sure enough a male bird is present, his pinky-red breast and cheeks striking when viewed against the dark bushes behind.

The Bullfinch has something of a shy and retiring nature, a bird of deciduous woodland or scrubby corners, which occurs at low density across much of Britain and Ireland. The unobtrusive nature of this bird is matched by its soft call, which is easy to miss, and its equally soft song, the latter containing some notes that are so soft as to be barely audible; this has the effect of making the song appear somewhat hesitant and punctuated with gaps. Seemingly out of keeping with the soft and rather understated call, the Bullfinch is actually a rather fine mimic. For this reason Bullfinches have been long-valued by cage bird enthusiasts, with some birds taught to mimic whimsical tunes by their owners. This habit was once particularly fashionable in Germany, where large numbers of birds were trapped to meet a growing public demand.

The numbers of Bullfinches present in Britain have been in long term decline, prompting the species to be added to the ‘red-list’ of birds of conservation concern. Given their current predicament it is hard to imagine that they were once regarded as a serious pest of commercial fruit trees, something which led to licensed control measures.

There is no sign of the female today but I am sure she will be somewhere within the thicket of thorns. Bullfinch pairs are long lasting and it is reassuring to be able to visit this particular copse to catch up with these delightful birds so readily.

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