Bullfinches Nesting, Eggs and Breeding Habits

The breeding habits of bullfinches are fine-tuned for raising multiple broods per season. At least, that’s what we can conclude from observing their mating and breeding practices.

From the way bullfinches form pairs to the fact that their breeding season starts early, everything seems to be pointing to the fact that bullfinches are intent on breeding successfully.

Because bullfinches have a reputation of mating for life, in this article I’ve chosen to write about the nesting and breeding habits of bullfinches. I’ll also divulge the reasons behind bullfinches choosing monogamy over multiple partners.

What Time of the Year do Bullfinches Breed?

Bullfinches breed from early spring to early summer. Depending on where in their range they’re located, breeding season may start as early as March/April or early May and last until mid-July.

The courting ritual between Bullfinches is quite endearing as there is no aggressivity involved on either part.

Although the male bullfinch enhances its breast to showcase its colorful plumage, it also acts somewhat subservient to the female, foreshadowing the relationship dynamic between the genders in what’s to come.

In the bullfinch world, the female is the dominant one. The male bullfinch is usually relegated to doing her bidding. This reversal of genders, albeit not unique for bullfinches, it’s not typical in the avian world.

Several curlew and godwit species have similar gender dynamics, but for the most part, male birds are usually the dominant ones.

The male bullfinch puts on a veritable courtship show for the female, which involves dropped wings, a tilting on the tail, the showcasing of the colorful plumage and white rump by the male bullfinch, waddling, bowing, hopping, turning from side to side, soft whistles from both sides, and a touching of beaks.

With bullfinches being the shy birds that they are, seeing this display of courtship is a rare occurrence that even devout birdwatchers are lucky to witness.

Where do Bullfinches Make Their Nests?

The nesting habits of bullfinches are also interesting to observe. Especially in how their tasks are shared and which of the two birds in the pair take on the dominant role.

The English bullfinch prefers making its nest in tall and dense shrubs, hedgerows, or fruit trees, while the Eurasian Bullfinch prefers nesting in conifer forests and woodlands.

The nest is usually at least 4-7 feet above the ground and well-hidden in the shrubbery to protect it from various predatory birds and other animals.

While the male bullfinch scouts the nesting site and leads the female to the location, the female chooses the exact spot on the shrub and builds the nest herself.

Bullfinches will use a variety of materials to build the nest, which although is loosely built, it’s well-insulated.

Twigs, soft rootlets are used for the basic structure, while moss, lichen, and animal hair are used for the inner lining and insulation.

Although the male bullfinch is not directly involved in building the nest, it will help the female by gathering materials for the nest; the female builds the nest alone.

Typically, the location of the nest is also chosen based on food availability in the area. That said, bullfinches have been observed to venture farther away from the nest when food is not available.

Bullfinches have developed special food sacs in the floor of their mouths that allows them to carry more food to their young in a single trip. They’re the only finches with this special food sac.

If you live close to woodlands and would enjoy having the presence of bullfinches in your garden, you can attract these elusive birds to your garden by planting a variety of native shrubs, especially those that produce berries.

Fruit trees including apple, pears, and cherry trees as well as tall hedgerows and seed-producing plants are all things that are appealing to bullfinches.

Bullfinches don’t typically use nest boxes; you can make them appealing to bullfinches by placing them somewhere in tall shrubs or hedgerows.

How Many Eggs do Bullfinches Lay?

After the courtship, pairing and nest building, comes the next stage of the breeding process – the laying of the eggs.

The female lays 4 to 6 eggs. The eggs are a pale blue and feature brownish mottling on the surface. It’s also the female who incubates the eggs.

During the incubation period, the male helps around by bringing food to the female and feeding her. As you can see, the whole process plays out like a well-oiled machine.

What is the Incubation Period for Bullfinch Eggs?

The incubation period for bullfinch eggs varies from 12 to 14 days, on average. Not all eggs will be fertile. The eggs that aren’t fertile are thrown out of the nest by the female bullfinch.

The eggs not being fertile is not the only issue that may stay in the way of the eggs hatching. Sometimes predators can destroy or eat the eggs.

From squirrels to avian predators, bullfinch eggs and even baby bullfinches are at risk of being eaten if the female bullfinch leaves the nest for long enough.

How Long it Takes for Bullfinch Chicks to Fledge?

Fledgling of bullfinch chicks occurs at about 16 to 18 days. Both parents are involved in the feeding of their young, taking turns in bringing food and feeding it to their young.

Young bullfinches are fed insects and seeds, even though adult bullfinches don’t eat insects. At least not on purpose.

Adult bullfinches are exclusively herbivorous, feeding on fresh fruit buds and shoots in spring and summer, berries in the fall, and seeds in the rest of the year.

However, they feed their young with insects they hunt. They may sometimes inadvertently eat insects, but usually they don’t do so on purpose.

Bullfinches hunt for insects during the summer, picking them off of leaves, catching them mid-air, and even going as far as picking off insects from spider webs.

The food sacs of bullfinches allow them to store food and carry more food in one trip, reducing the time they’re away from the nest. But it also allows them to feed multiple chicks in one trip.

Because of their high protein content, insects help juvenile bullfinches develop more rapidly. The quicker they grow, the faster they can leave their nests, and the quicker the adult bullfinches can go on to raise the next brood of the season.

How Many Broods do Bullfinches Have?

Bullfinches will typically aim to raise two broods per season, with some bullfinches attempting to raise three.

The long breeding period and the way bullfinch pairs are formed, allows these birds to focus their energies on reproduction and raising multiple broods per season.

As you may have noticed, their parenting tasks are also very well-organized, with each parent contributing to the raising of the broods.

Do Bullfinches Mate for Life?

What has long been believed about the mating habits of bullfinches, research has now confirmed. Indeed, bullfinches do mate for life. This is once again atypical in the avian world, with only a handful of other examples.

After the courtship rituals I described above, bullfinches will form a bond that lasts for their lifetimes. The fact that bullfinches will have an average lifespan of only two years may also contribute to it.

That said, bullfinches can live much longer in optimal conditions, for as many as 12 years. Captive-bred bullfinches will typically live longer because of their access to life-saving medications and life-prolonging treatments that wild bullfinches simply don’t have access to.

Researchers have observed bullfinches staying with the same partner for several breeding seasons, which proved the initial theories about their breeding habits.

This habit of forming lasting bonds, allows the bullfinch couple to start breeding early in the season, increasing the number of broods they can raise per season.

It also helps the birds conserve energy if they don’t have to start every breeding season by finding a new partner.

Bullfinches are so programmed for companionship that even captive-bred bullfinches need companionship.

Bullfinches that are raised in captivity, are raised in pairs precisely to provide them with the companionship they so crave.

In the wild, bullfinches are usually spotted feeding in pairs or in a small family group. Only during the breeding season do bullfinches stay in larger flocks of around 50 birds.

They’re shy birds that don’t mingle much with other birds, although they will tolerate other birds of similar size.


From courtship to fledging, bullfinches have interesting nesting and breeding habits. The reversal of gender roles we can witness in these birds is not typical in the world of birds.

Female bullfinches can especially be observed asserting their dominance during feeding time, when they might chase away bullfinches from a feeding site. But they’ll also be happy to share.

Another surprising aspect of their courtship is the lack of aggressivity during courtship and the fact that bullfinches form bonds that last their lifetimes.

Whatever your thoughts may be on the matter, one thing is certain – bullfinches are exemplary in the way they manage the raising of their broods.

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