10 Interesting Facts About Bullfinches

A small bird with a stocky build, the Bullfinch can be found in a large geographical area that extends from Ireland through northern Europe as well as temperate regions of Asia.

With a colorful plumage and a low, quiet whistle, the Bullfinch is an elusive and unobtrusive bird that prefers dense, mixed woodlands with a thick understory.

Bullfinches in Europe seem to like coniferous forest better, while those in the UK are more partial to forests with broad-leaf trees.

Despite their shy nature, we know plenty of interesting things about the behavior, diet and breeding habits of bullfinches.

Some of these interesting things have made it to my list of 10 interesting facts about bullfinches.

1. They were once considered an orchard pest

More of a sad fact about bullfinches than an interesting one, bullfinches were not always viewed positively, especially by owners of fruit orchards.

Because bullfinches can voraciously devour fresh buds of fruit trees, they were once considered a pest. In England, bounties were paid by parishes for every bullfinch that was trapped and killed.

The custom of culling bullfinches was even supported by an Act of Parliament that established the payment of a bounty for bullfinches that were killed.

However, as it turns out, the culling of bullfinches may have been unnecessary. Commercial fruit trees can lose half their buds without the harvest being affected.

The bullfinch population has registered a declining trend so much so that today, it is on the amber list under the Birds of Conservation Concern and it’s a protected bird in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

2. They’re herbivorous birds

Bullfinches have a diet that’s based on fresh buds and shoots in spring and summer, fleshy fruits and berries in the fall, and seeds in winter.

Bullfinches enjoy the buds of apple, plum, cherry, and pear trees. Certain varieties are favored over others including Dr Jules, Williams and Conference pears. Among cherry varieties, the Morello cherries are most favored.

As for berries, bullfinches will feed on rowan, Hawthorn, raspberry, privet berries, Blackberry, Guelder rose berries, and others.

As for seeds, bullfinches prefer the seeds of ash, birch, rowan, bramble, birch, dock, nettle, and several seed-bearing weeds.

Even though bullfinches can hunt for insects, they only do so briefly during the breeding season when they catch insects to feed their young.

During this time, they may inadvertently swallow insects themselves, yet they don’t seek out insects for their own benefit.

3. They have uniquely colorful plumage

The orange plumage on the breast of the male bullfinch has a unique pinkish tone that makes this bird recognizable by its colors alone.

The head is black while the wings are a light gray with black markings. The bright white rump is visible only in flight.

The shape of the beak (thick and conical) as well as the head and neck come together in a bull-head shape, hence the illustrative name of the bird.

Male bullfinches are easy to identify after the color of the plumage. Only females and juvenile bullfinches may be mistaken for other finches like the Chaffinch because they’re missing the orange plumage.

4. They’re reluctant to visit feeders

Bullfinches are a rare sight at bird feeders. Although they do enjoy some seed mixes and sunflowers seeds and hearts, you won’t see bullfinches feeding in tandem with other birds.

They’ll usually visit bird feeders, once other birds have left.

If you’re lucky enough to have a property close to woodlands or farmland bordered with thick hedgerows, you can attract bullfinches to your backyard more easily.

Besides sunflower seeds, putting millet, kale, or quinoa seeds will also attract bullfinches to your garden.

Likewise, having berry shrubs or other fruit trees in your garden is also a good way to lure bullfinches to your backyard.

5. Pairs of bullfinches form lasting bonds

Bullfinches form lasting bonds for several breeding seasons, producing two-three broods per season.

The nest is built above the ground in a dense shrub or tree. The female lays 4-7 pale blue eggs with red-brown mottling.

The reason why bullfinches form these lasting bonds makes a lot of sense – they can spend less energy and time on courting, and more time on raising broods throughout the breeding season.

Both the male and the female Bullfinch are involved in feeding their young, although the female bullfinch is the one building the nest and incubating the eggs. The male is the one choosing the nesting site.

The nesting site is usually more than 13 feet above the ground. Bullfinches choose either a dense shrub or a coniferous tree as the nesting site. They build their nests out of twigs and fine rootlets.

If you’re hoping to have bullfinches build nests in your garden, it’s not something that can be achieved easily. Bullfinches rarely use nest boxes.

If your garden is close to woodlands or if you have shrubs that can act as a thick cover for them, you may be lucky to have bullfinches build a nest in your garden or backyard.

6. A subspecies of a Bullfinch, the Azores Bullfinch is one of the rarest birds in the world

The Azores Bullfinch is an endangered species that’s endemic to the Azores islands. Loss of habitat and the invasion of exotic plant species have led to a strong decline in their population.

However, ample conservation efforts, which targeted the restoration of their habitat by planting some 65,000 native plants and fruit orchards, has helped save the species from extinction.

Although the Azores bullfinch has been long classified as a subspecies of the Eurasian Bullfinch, today, it’s recognized as a separate species.

While sharing the same physical appearance – front-heavy, bull-headed appearance – as the Eurasian bullfinch, the Azores bullfinch is missing the pink-orange coloration. Instead, it has a light gray breast.

The black cap as well as the black wings are the same as the ones of the Eurasian Bullfinch.

There are several other bullfinch subspecies including the Baikal, the Brown bullfinch, the Red-headed bullfinch, the Beavan’s bullfinch or the Gray-headed bullfinch, the Orange bullfinch, and the Philippine bullfinch.

7. Tamed bullfinches can be taught to repeat whistles and bird flutes

Bullfinches were once popular cage birds. However, Bullfinches that were kept in captivity would lose their orange coloration. Bullfinches can be taught to repeat melodies and whistles.

But their intelligence goes beyond parroting a few sounds and melodies. Bullfinches have been found to have very good problem-solving abilities.

In one research, Bullfinches were quickly able to figure out how to open the lid on a jar of food.

8. Bullfinches have food sacks that allow them to carry more food to their young in one trip

Eurasian bullfinches are the only finch species to have developed food sacks positioned in the floor of their mouth. This sack allows them to carry more food in one trip to feed their juveniles.

Juveniles are fed insects that Bullfinches will hunt for in the foliage of trees. They’ll often catch insects mid-air much like a flycatcher. They’ll also pick them off leaves or branches, and even go as far to pick them off spiderwebs.

Insects are rich in protein and highly nutritious to juvenile bullfinches, helping them develop more rapidly.

Adult bullfinches will not eat insects, preferring to keep to their herbivorous diet rich in fresh buds, berries, and seeds.

9. Not all bullfinches are migratory

In the UK, bullfinches are described as non-migratory. But in other regions, Bullfinches are considered migratory birds.

Bullfinches in the UK usually stick around their breeding grounds even in winter and seldom travel outside their breeding range.

Bullfinches on the continent, however, will migrate to warmer regions. For example, bullfinches from Northern Europe will travel south to the warmer regions of Central Europe for the winter.

Therefore, depending on which regions of their range they inhabit, bullfinches can migrate or stay year-round in their breeding grounds.

It’s worth bearing in mind the vast range covered by these birds starting with Ireland and all the way to parts of Japan.

10. Pairs produce two or three broods per season

You’ll commonly see bullfinches in pairs of two or in a family group. Only on occasion will you see them in flocks, which usually happens during the breeding season.

Bullfinches will raise two broods per season; however, some will raise as many as three. Eggs will hatch in 14-21 days. Both the male and the female bullfinch take turns in feeding their young.


Culled for centuries because of their perceived damage to fruit crops, the bullfinch has become a shy and often elusive singing bird that enjoys mixed woodlands for breeding.

With unmistakable plumage and appearance, Bullfinches can sometimes be spotted in gardens, parklands, and orchards. They usually stay away from bird feeders, especially if said bird feeders are frequented by a lot of other birds.

Bullfinches are herbivorous, feeding on fruit tree buds and shoots, as well as various seeds and buds. Insects are fed only to their juveniles.

There are several bullfinch subspecies, each with beautifully colored plumage and the iconic bull-head shape.

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