BULLFINCHES - 27 February 2015

Bullfinches have been my bird of the winter. I have seen at least one on most local walks and typically I have seen a pair or two. What pretty birds they are. The cock bird has a vivid scarlet breast which contrasts sharply with its black cap and wings, while the breast plumage of the 'duller' female is subtle pink and equally attractive in good light. Both have white rumps which seem to 'flash' as they fly, offset by their black tails. I like their calls too. I cannot say their song as I have never knowingly heard it, but their calls are soft and plaintive. These have an eerie, haunting quality to me which adds to their attractiveness.

Yet I have an ambivalent attitude to Bullfinches. I grew up in Kent in the 1970s with a garden full of apple trees. I watched these birds rip apart budding apple blossom in the spring, seemingly in considerable quantity. I recall being told that such destructive behaviour was a recent phenomenon in a 20C countryside dominated by commercial orchards. No such problem in Northumberland where large-scale fruit farms don't exist and Northumbrian Bullfinches won't know about the delights of eating apple buds. Surely the apple trees in my garden will be safe. How wrong could I be! Thankfully, we still get reasonable crops of apples most years, but I watch aghast each spring when the Buffinches arrive and land on my trees to start their destruction.

Mark Winter

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