The air was biting cold, my breath was visible in front of me and the sky was a light grey – the default colour in winter. I stood in a local park watching my mad dog lollop frenziedly down the path, I then turned my attention to the edge of the wood where the branches were tangled and an impenetrable mass of brambles covered the ground before it. A few small birds dangled from the twigs so I raised my binoculars to identify them; mostly blue tits with a single robin. I lowered my binoculars to look for my dog, and when I glanced back at the bramble patch I saw a glowing red bird perched upon an arching thorn stem. I hurriedly put my bins to my eyes but it had moved in that split second to another branch so I had to relocate it, I lost it for a moment but it soon revealed itself again.The bird’s entire front was a vibrant peachy-red which strongly contrasted with its glossy black head and wings – it was a male Bullfinch.
The Bullfinch, Pyrrhula pyrrhula, is widespread across Europe and much of Asia, all the way to Japan in fact and is listed by the IUCN as of ‘Least Concern’. Yet in the UK this delightful bird has declined by over 50% in a quarter of a century; it is now an infrequent sight. The bird was once (and may still be) regarded as a pest because of its fondness for the buds of fruit trees, it was often shot if found in an orchard and was known as the ‘bud-bird’ or ‘bud-picker’. But the main cause of its decline in Britain is thought to be linked to the large-scale loss of mature hedgerows and the intensification of the agricultural landscape.
This birds beauty and large size (for a finch) has made it a favourite amongst birders – especially wildlife photographers. The fact that it is now a rare sight (partly due to its decline but partly due to its reclusive nature) makes an encounter with one all the more special. They are often found in pairs or small family groups even outside of the breeding season and they do not usually stray far from their spring territory. Look out for these fantastic birds in dense shrubbery or woodland (or orchards) in any season, although this time of year is better for spotting them because of the bare trees and food scarcity – which makes them more active.