Bullfinch vs Chaffinch – What is the Difference?

Widely distributed throughout most parts of Europe and Asia, the Bullfinch and the Chaffinch are both members of the finch families, sharing similarities that might make it difficult to distinguish one from the other.

Technically, the one thing that seems to be the source of confusion is the appearance of these birds, particularly if you’re comparing a juvenile bullfinch to a chaffinch.

It also doesn’t help that they can often be seen in the same areas. However, the bullfinch prefers to stay away from densely populated areas, and it also makes itself scarce at bird feeders, unlike the chaffinch, which often comes to bird feeders for seeds and fruits.

So, how can you tell which is the Bullfinch and which is the Chaffinch?

In this article, I tackle this common issue by pointing out that the similarities between the Bullfinch and Chaffinch are only superficial, and that you can easily tell them apart once you know what to look for.

Are Bullfinches and Chaffinches the Same?

To the untrained eye, Bullfinches and Chaffinches may seem like the same bird, but once I’ll point out the differences, you’ll understand that the Bullfinch and Chaffinch aren’t actually that similar at all.

The similarities these birds do share are related to their body size and plumage. As for their classification, both birds are part of the Fringillidae family, but are part of different subfamilies – the Bullfinch is part of the Carduelinae subfamily, whereas the Chaffinch is part of the Carduelinae subfamily.

They’re also part of a different genus. The Bullfinch is part of the Pyrrhula genus, and the Chaffinch is part of the genus Fringilla.

Despite these differences in classification, it doesn’t help that the female chaffinch looks a lot like a juvenile bullfinch. They’re very similar both in size and plumage color, so it’s understandable that many will mistake one bird for the other.

But the male chaffinch is different from the male bullfinch in many aspects that I’m going to cover below.

Can Bullfinches Breed with Chaffinches?

It’s not uncommon for finches to crossbreed with other members of the “true finch family”.

Chaffinches, for example, will readily hybridize with other members of the true finch family including goldfinches, canaries, siskins, and others.

There’s a recommendation against housing Chaffinches with other members of the true finch family precisely for this reason.

Because Bullfinches are part of a different genus and because they’re elusive birds that aren’t as well monitored and tracked, it’s not likely that these two ever hybridize.

Differences Between Bullfinch and Chaffinch

To help you distinguish bullfinches from chaffinches, I’ve chosen six categories through which I’m going to illustrate the differences between the two birds.

By the end of this article, you will be able to tell bullfinches and chaffinches apart, without any doubts.

– Appearance

The color of the plumage is one way to distinguish the Bullfinch from the Chaffinch. The colors of the Bullfinch are usually stronger and more solid than those of the Chaffinch.

Bullfinches feature a pinkish-red underbelly and chest, solid black wings with gray wing bars and a gray back.

However, one of the most notable distinguishing features of the Bullfinch is the solid black cap it sports on its head that extends under its eye. Female bullfinches have a dull pink-gray breast, while their wings are also black.

Chaffinches, on the other hand, are missing the black cap as the crest and back of their heads are light gray, without covering the cheeks or eyes. Chaffinches also have white detailing on their wings. The chest and belly are a duller rusty red.

Until now, the differences are straightforward. The confusion comes when comparing juvenile bullfinches to chaffinches.

Juvenile bullfinches are a lot like female chaffinches in that they have duller colors – a brownish rusty color – and they’re missing the black cap that’s the dead giveaway for the bullfinch.

But even when comparing a juvenile bullfinch to a chaffinch, look for the wings. Chaffinches will always have white detailing that’s completely missing from the bullfinch.

In addition to the white detailing on the wings of the chaffinch, the wings of the juvenile bullfinch are black.

There are also differences in the body size of the two birds. Bullfinches look bulkier but aren’t necessarily heavier than the chaffinch. Chaffinches are, however, slightly longer.

Because you won’t be able to tell the weight of either just by looking at them, it’s best to remember that Bullfinches have a stockier build.

– Beak Shape

If the color of the plumage and the detailing on the wings still has you questioning which bird you’re looking at, compare the shape of the beaks.

The bill of a bullfinch is short and stubby. It’s also colored black. The bill of a chaffinch is longer, straighter, and pointier when compared to that of the bullfinch. It’s also colored gray or dark gray, but not black.

Technically, because of the peculiar shape of the bill of a bullfinch, you could tell the two birds apart simply by examining the beaks.

– Songs and Calls

If you might misidentify the two birds based on the color of their plumage, you will surely not mistake their calls and songs, which are very different.

The call of the bullfinch is soft and slow, showing a descending tendency. It’s a ‘peu-peu’ or ‘teu-teu’ sound. Both the male and the female bullfinch sing. To me, it sounds a lot like the sound baby chicks make during feeding time.

The chaffinch has a “Chip chip chip” call that’s also descending and it’s more complex in that it evolves into a musical rattle of notes. Only the male chaffinch sings. The female doesn’t.

– Nesting Habits

Chaffinches choose small trees or shrubs to build their nests. They often nest in gardens as well or hedgerows on farmlands.

Their nests are cup-shaped and carefully constructed using grass and small twigs. Animal hair and feathers are often used to line the nests while moss is used to insulate the nest from the outside but also as camouflage.

They will begin building their nests in early April or May, usually producing one brood per year.

Bullfinches choose to nest in bushes and shrubs as well as woodlands. Although they used to nest in orchards too and feed on buds and seeds of fruit, farmers have started eliminating them, causing their population to dwindle.

The Bullfinch builds its nest 4-7 feet above the ground. The nest is a bit more loosely built and made of twigs, moss and layers of fine roots used as lining.

– Diet

Bullfinches enjoy seeds of fleshy fruits as well as tree buds and fresh shoots. Because of their love for these, they will often visit orchards. Unfortunately, farmers consider them as pests because of the damage they can cause to fruits.

When fruits seeds and buds are not available, bullfinches will feed on various seeds and will also feed insects to their young.

Because of their elusive nature, bullfinches are rarely seen at bird feeders. However, you may be able to attract them with sunflower seeds, millet, and quinoa seeds.

Chaffinches, on the other hand, are ground-feeding birds, so you’ll see them foraging for seeds or insects. They also enjoy feeding on spiders, earthworms, and snail eggs.

Unlike the Bullfinch that rarely visits bird feeders, you can easily attract the Chaffinch to your garden by putting out seed mixes, crushed peanuts, berries, sunflower hearts, insects and some fruits too.

Chaffinches will feed insects to their young, which help them grow more quickly. Only when insects are not available will chaffinches feed seeds to their young.

– Habitat

Bullfinches choose mixed woodlands for breeding and they can be found in temperate regions of Europe and Asia.

As I mentioned, bullfinches will visit orchards and gardens, but also parks. In winter, they usually migrate south to warmer parts of their respective regions.

Chaffinches will inhabit northwestern Africa, most of Europe and temperate regions of Asia. In milder areas, the Chaffinch isn’t a migratory bird. In colder areas, it will migrate and seek out warmer regions for the winter.

Because there’s overlap between the areas they inhabit, there’s a high probability of spotting these birds in the same areas.

However, since bullfinches are more elusive than chaffinches, your chances of spotting a chaffinch are probably higher.


Similar at first glance, the Bullfinch and Chaffinch are different birds with different appearances, diets, and nesting habits.

The similarities they show are especially between juvenile bullfinches and chaffinches due to their similar plumage.

Once juvenile bullfinches mature, the similarities are usually much less obvious and the differences will shine through instead, especially once the bullfinch showcases its solid colors.

Hopefully, I have managed to highlight the several differences between the two birds, and you now have a clearer image of which bird is the bullfinch and which is the chaffinch.

Even if you don’t remember all the details related to the differences in plumage color and the sounds each bird makes, remember the beak shape of the bullfinch, and you’ll always be able to correctly identify it.

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