Brightening up the gloom
BULLFINCHES are the ideal bird to brighten up a cold winter’s day.
I’ve seen a lot of these large and colourful bull-necked finches since the turn of the year, particularly on birdfeeders.
That’s great to see because there was a time when bullfinches were regarded as too shy to feed from garden bird tables. Fortunately they have generated more courage in recent years and are now a relatively common sight on many feeders.
The male is particularly attractive with his rose-pink breast and blue grey back, while the female has a grey-pink breast. Both sexes have obvious white rumps in flight.
There was a time when bullfinches were shot and trapped in huge numbers because of their preference for eating tree buds, particularly in orchards.
Eventually modern research discovered that the birds were killed needlessly because a commercial fruit tree can lose up to half its buds without the harvest being affected.
Bullfinches do eat seeds as well, but concentrate on catch- ing insects during the nesting season with which to feed their young.
They form lasting pairs and usually stick together throughout the year. Ironically the female often dominates the male and the cock bullfinch is said to be the original hen-pecked male.
This superb picture of a male bullfinch was taken by Maurice Benson.
While it’s wonderful to see bullfinches, Brian Meehan from Middlesbrough had a rather unusual guest in his garden when he spotted a mountain quail.
These exotic birds are found in the wild in the North American Rocky Mountains, so Brian’s visitor has clearly escaped from a local aviary.
The quail adds to Brian’s impressive list because he has also spotted a long tailed grass finch and a couple of canaries in his garden in the past.
This is not the first time readers have told me of mountain quails in their garden. Either a local aviary has loose hinges on its doors or the birds have a little more freedom than they need.
Meanwhile I’ve been out and about ticking off some of the North-east’s current birding attractions, but one of my greatest pleasures came from spotting wild snowdrops in flower.
Ironically Britain’s “wild snowdrops” all originate from a garden escape in the 18th Century.
We can forgive them this fact, especially as they are well established here now and will produce their lovely nodding blooms through to March, when the coltsfoot and other flowers begin to appear.
Eric would like to hear from readers about what they have seen. Email him at email@example.com