Thursday, 9 June 2011

Bullfinch Song

9th June. A walk on patch this evening gave me a wonderful sighting of a male Bullfinch fully lit by the sun and so showing off the remarkable plumage colouring to the full. A great sight to behold. Even better was listening to the bird’s quiet and quite mournful song which is so often drowned out by other bird song. I don’t hear it very often in the field, but I am well accustomed to it as I play a tape of the song during one of my talks for beginner bird watchers. Tim Birkhead in ‘The Wisdom of Birds’ (strongly recommend this book) points out that the Bullfinch is unusual as it does not sing to hold a territory, but simply to attract its mate. The Bullfinch is thought to be monogamous and pairs stick together year round. Although the song of the bird is a weak one it does have great abilities in the sense that it is known to be able to learn new songs from humans. Such was the Bullfinch’s ability to learn the tunes of folk songs, that there was once a thriving market in the sale of these birds. Apparently as English folk songs were very popular the market in London was especially strong. Of course they were often kept in cages as pets, not just for the ability to sing but because of the male’s birds sheer beauty. I may have this wrong but I seem to remember that the late James Alder (local naturalist) kept a rescued Bullfinch for sometime. The Bullfinch certainly has a song that I won’t forget and it reminds me of the equally mournful song of the Dupont’s Lark that I listened to in central Spain.

I was actually listening for Grasshopper Warbler this evening, but I still haven’t heard any on patch. I did hear more than one yesterday, but that will be another blog. I did hear the song of Blackcap at length tonight and eventually got my eye on the bird. I later found another pair which appeared to be nesting close to Dunnocks. On the way to the lake I closely watched as a Common Whitethroat moved through the bush.

Numbers of Swift flew overhead at varying heights as I watched a young Great Crested Grebe follow a parent bird around the small lake. It was soon joined by its remaining sibling, so the parent was being kept busy. It seems to me that a second brood may be being attempted, as the other parent sat in the same area as I last watched it on what appears to be a loosely built nest. I noted that one of the other Great Crested Grebes has made a return on the larger lake, but seems to be alone still. A Coot sat on the nest as a youngster swam nearby and the other adult carried sedges to and from the edge of the lake to the nest. Despite the baldness of the floating reedbed I note that it has not prevented the pair of Greylag Geese producing a brood of five hungry goslings. The whole family were alert to the feed being thrown into the lake and were soon taking their share as the adult bird chased of the Mallards.

The sky was still full of Swifts as I returned home on what was now a rather chilly evening.


  1. Stuck in the house having a new kitchen fitted, your post makes me want to get out and down to the lake!

  2. Cheers Roger. I hope the work has gone smoothly!

  3. Just in case you look in again Roger. I've now seen an earlier comment from you about the floating reed-bed. I think the only explanation for its sorry state is the severe winter weather. It just doesn't seem to have coped and has been in a state of decline since the end of the big freeze. I spoke with some N T park staff a few weeks ago and they promised to have a word with someone in 'authority' to see if anything could be done. Brian