Walking along a hedgerow one can sometimes hear a soft ‘phew’ call but never quite work out where it came from. The chances are it was a Bullfinch, male or female, they both make the same sound, one of the most distinctive I know. The song is also soft but quite variable with one song a part of courtship and another uttered when some way from other individuals.
Bullfinches are one of the birds frequently found in pairs. It is believed they are persistent in their pair bonding but also sexually persistent throughout the year, with the female being dominant! As in most birds, the male has the outstanding good looks with a superb orange-red body, a black face and cap and a grey back with black wings. They have clear white wing bars and the often seen white rump as the bird flies away from you. The female is the same but the underbody is pink rather than the orange-red of the male. Bullfinches are the same size or slightly larger than the much more common Chaffinch.
Although a beautiful bird, the Bullfinch has been persecuted in the past because of its love of the seeds of fleshy fruits and buds and shoots. It has been said that a pair of Bullfinches could strip a soft fruit orchard bare or destroy a crop in spring by eating the bursting buds. Their main habitat these days is not orchards as they have largely disappeared, but hedgerows and broad-leaved woodland. The edge of woodland is the most likely location to see them.
Bullfinches are resident in the Blackwater Valley – some local migration may be seen but they can be found in any month. Winter is a good time to search for them as the lack of leaves make this secretive species easier to see. I have found them in every stretch of the Valley but you may find it easier to locate them by call away from the noisiest stretches of the path close to roads and railways. A good area to look would be the Blackwater Valley path from New Mill Restaurant at Eversley westwards towards Jouldings Farm and Swallowfield.
There has been some concern about numbers of this beautiful species declining and Bracknell Forest Council for one, have it on their Biodiversity Action Plan list of species to monitor and protect.
Berkshire Ornithological Club