How do Bullfinches Survive in Winter?

Because of the areas they inhabit and their varied diet, bullfinches adapt to winter conditions, especially when food availability is not a problem.

Although bullfinches have a reputation of eating fresh buds of fruit trees, their diet adapts to the season, which ensures their survival during the winter.

There seems to be a confusion about whether bullfinches are migratory or not. Depending on their region, bullfinches can be migratory.

Below, I’m going to discuss why some bullfinches will migrate and some will not, and how the diet of bullfinches changes with the seasons.

I will also discuss a couple of ways in which you can help bullfinches survive the winter.

Do Bullfinches Migrate?

Some bullfinches do migrate. But not all. The British bullfinch will remain in its breeding grounds all year round.

Because winters are not that harsh, the British bullfinch can survive the winter, especially when food is also available in its breeding grounds, even during the winter.

As I will explain below, sometimes food scarcity will determine bullfinches to venture into human sites including backyards or gardens that are abundant in food.

Unlike the British bullfinch, the Eurasian Bullfinch is migratory. These birds will migrate to escape harsh winters, seeking out regions that are warmer in winter.

Food availability and harsh weather conditions are two of the factors that will determine bullfinches to leave their breeding site and seek out human sites nearby, where food may be available, or migrate to areas that are warmer in the winter.

Where do Bullfinches Go in the Winter?

British bullfinches will usually leave their breeding grounds for farmlands and other human sites, where they can find more food than what is available in their breeding sites.

Eurasian bullfinches that live in the north of Europe will migrate further south to central Europe to escape the harsh winter.

Bullfinches have been observed to remain within short distances – typically, only a few kilometers away – from good food sources.

Bullfinches will usually stay in pairs and sometimes can be seen feeding together with other bullfinches.

They won’t feed together with other birds. Their shyness makes it difficult to attract them to your backyard with bird feeders or feeding tables.

Still, all is not lost. Some of the tips I’ll be sharing below will not only attract bullfinches to your garden, but it can also help them tremendously to survive the winter.

What do Bullfinches Eat in the Winter?

As the seasons change, the primary food sources of bullfinches also change. Bullfinches eat buds and shoots in spring, berries in summer and fall, and will seek out seeds of various trees and herbs during the winter.

Here are the foods bullfinches will eat in winter:

  • Dormant buds of trees and shrubs: While they prefer the fresh buds of spring, in winter, bullfinches will happily eat dormant buds of hawthorn, blackthorn, pear, and crab apple as well as those of various other cultivated fruit trees.
  • Seed of seed-bearing weeds: From nettle to heather seeds, bullfinches will happily consume the seeds of various native weeds. Plants that produce seed heads in winter, such as the dock leaf, make an excellent source of food for bullfinches.
  • Seeds of various trees and shrubs: Ash is one of the most liked food sources of bullfinches in winter. Other trees and shrubs where bullfinches look for seeds include birch, rowan, and bramble.
  • Seeds in farmlands: Bullfinches will seek out various seeds found in farmlands as well. If said farmlands have hedgerows on their edges, the more likely that bullfinches will venture there in search for food.
  • Bird feeders: Bullfinches don’t habitually seek out bird feeders. But lack of food can push them to visit gardens and backyards, so putting out various seeds and seed mixes in bird feeders can attract bullfinches. Sunflower seeds and hearts sit especially well with bullfinches. Seeds of quinoa, kale, oats, crushed nuts, and fruit can also pique the interest of bullfinches.

As shy, elusive birds, bullfinches will try to stay away from human settlements such as parks and gardens.

But food scarcity can drive them to take chances, so placing out seed mixes and foods that are good for bullfinches can help them survive the winter and give you a chance to spot a bullfinch in your very own garden.

Below, I will give you some tips on how you can help bullfinches get access to plenty of food during the winter.

How Can You Help Bullfinches During Winter?

My strategies for helping bullfinches during winter involve a combination of garden planning and placing out food in bird feeders.

When it comes to garden planning, you should focus on planting a variety of native shrubs, trees, and herbs that attract bullfinches either because of their seeds or because of the shelter and cover they can provide.

If they’re berry shrubs all the better – you might be able to attract bullfinches even in summer and fall, when berries ripen.

Likewise, thick hedgerows can become an insect habitat, which are useful for bullfinches in summer, when they hunt for insects to feed their young.

But focusing on winter, you should choose herbs and seed-producing weeds such as the nettle. While it may be counterintuitive to keep weeds like the dock leaf in your garden, you can harvest its seeds from elsewhere and place them in a bird feeder.

Bullfinches prefer natural food over seeds placed in a bird feeder. But they’ll enjoy sunflower seeds and hearts, suet, or species-specific seed mixes as well.

One tip that I’ve heard elsewhere and seemed to have worked for me as well is to place the bird feeder close to a hedge or a shrub. If the feeder is in an open area, bullfinches are much less likely to visit.


Bullfinches adapt their diet to what’s available for them during the winter. If food is abundant in their breeding sites, they’ll remain there all winter long.

Only when they can no longer find food, do they leave their breeding grounds for farmlands, parks, and other human settlements.

Eurasian bullfinches of Northern Europe will migrate further south to escape the harsh winter and seek out warmer regions of Central Europe.

Therefore, bullfinches are adaptable and can successfully manage their dietary needs during winter.

That said, offering them a bit of help by way of planting native shrubs and trees in your garden, or putting out seeds in bird feeders can also help them thrive even in winter.

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