Bright­en­ing up the gloom

Middlesbrough Herald & Post - - HERALD & POST -

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 eric.pay­lor@gmail.com

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