My mother was with us for Christmas; I was cutting things up in the kitchen one dark afternoon with a bit of sleet coming down, and from further back in the room, she asked me “what’s that bird on your feeder?” I stepped back cautiously to get the angle and there was a male Bullfinch, looking a bit uncertain. Off he went. I was astonished. We’d seen them where the Kelvin Way rises towards the Wyndford Flats. One very cold day, there were five in an Alder tree, eating buds. They didn’t seem to mind us at all and we watched them for quite a long time before one of them became uneasy, gave a call and off they went. This short row of Alders (not pictured, it’s a Birch) became a reliable place to see them – they’d be in the trees, on the ground beneath or in the undergrowth down the bank towards the river. But to get them at the window was amazing.
Time passes and suddenly, we had three males and two females coming to see us regularly on the Squirrel Buster. In one remarkable year, three males would sit on the bracket which supports the feeder and I was reminded of “The Three Tenors”. The bullfinches were better looking. There were five chicks in that year. Now we are back to a pair, with an extra male sometimes.
I haven’t heard our Bullfinches sing – there is a quiet call which alerts to their presence, usually followed by a flash of white as they fly away. My RSPB book describes the song as a “creaking, piping warble, seldom heard.” In The Reticence of Lady Anne, Saki’s tale of terminal domestic torpor, a virtuoso Bullfinch can render an air from Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride. That is until it is slaughtered by a rotten cat.
They are very bossy on the feeder, prising the goldfinches and chaffinches away with a lunge or a hop to the next feeding window. I was very interested to see that the feeder hierarchy reported here didn’t include Bullfinches. They are units, and they don’t have to try too hard – what looks like an aggressive lunge may even be something to do with the way they ingest food when chick rearing. I read that they have a pouch which they stuff with extra food when they are feeding young and I wonder if the stretched posture which they often adopt is related to the habitual filling of the pouch, rather than aggression.
I don’t have good images from the feeder, which is hilarious given the number of times they come to see us, but it’s to do with focal planes. Our birds make the window filthy, with endless scatterings and impacts of hydrocarbon-rich husks. Even if I focus manually on the birds on the feeder, there is a disagreeable cataract of out-of-focus glazing over the image, so the ones I fancy are from the outdoors. The best locations have been by the canal, either on Speirs Wharf, or at Cadder. At Cadder, we found a male Bullfinch showing off his agility, possibly for the benefit of the nearby female who was throwing a few shapes of her own.
I found a pair in the Botanic Gardens –one sat behind the other on a dull day so we have a classic sensitivity versus depth-of-field problem, alas.
I like this urban chap on the barbed wire on the canal by TWB at Speirs Wharf. Birds like a bit of urban tangle and decay – what our government may think of as derelict land and tries to sell off to developers for “regeneration” can often be pretty good songbird habitat.
The chicks turned up in 2020 – I heard a peeping and I peered very cautiously onto the sill and there was our first young visitor. Others followed and as they grew more capable, they would sit in the Birch sapling just outside. We didn’t see any chicks in 2021 or 2022 but we hope that the established pair will succeed this season.
I do hope you enjoy the colours of these birds. The breast colour of the male is a feast for the eye but shades of the plumage on the female are exquisite. The blacker-than-black cap sets everything off beautifully, and there are textures too, much to enjoy. One day, I will photograph one on the wing to have an image of the pure white rump.