Tuesday, May 24, 2022
HomeNewsNotes from the Sticks: Welcome back, bullfinches

Notes from the Sticks: Welcome back, bullfinches

-

OF all the beautiful birds we have, I think my favourite is the bullfinch, with the male’s bold colours and markings subtly echoed by the female. The white rump is distinctive in flight.

Two summers ago we had two pairs coming to our feeders for sunflower hearts but none last summer. This year I have seen one pair once.

Here’s a great video by someone lucky enough to have a crowd of them. There is a guest appearance by a goldfinch and walk-on parts for a greenfinch and a blue tit.

It is properly called the Eurasian bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) and it breeds across Europe and temperate Asia. Pairs stay together for life, though that may not be very long – the average life span is two years. They are shy and stay out of sight in vegetation when they can. So there are probably more around than we are aware of.

They are not welcome everywhere because in the spring they eat the buds of fruit bushes and trees, particularly pears (preferring Conference to Comice) and plums, which can cause havoc for commercial orchards. They select flower buds over leaf buds as these are more nutritious, and can strip up to 30 buds a minute. In the 16th century, Henry VIII condemned their ‘criminal attacks’ on fruit trees, and an Act of Parliament offered one penny for every bird killed. Until fairly recently growers were entitled to shoot them on sight. This is from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust website: ‘Also, village lads or students were often paid to wander around the orchards of Kent, blowing various musical instruments and clattering dustbin lids together to frighten off the colourful pest. (A head of project scientist currently working at the GWCT used to do this to boost his university allowance.)’

Numbers went into decline in the 1970s and bullfinches were given protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. They are now increasing. It is still legal for a fruit grower to shoot or trap them under licence if it can be proved that all other methods of control have failed. The favoured method is to organise orchards and surrounding vegetation in such a way that the damage is spread evenly, as the fruit yield is diminished only if more than 50 per cent of buds are taken from an individual tree.

Later in the year the birds catch insects and other invertebrates for their chicks, and feed on seeds through the winter until those delicious young buds appear.

***

Sheep of the Week

The Balwen Welsh Mountain sheep is quite similar to the Dutch Zwartbles, which I wrote about here, https://www.conservativewoman.co.uk/notes-from-the-sticks-hare-apparent/ but it is smaller and hardier. ‘Balwen’ is Welsh for ‘white blaze’, or to be strictly accurate, ‘blaze white’.

This is a ewe (they don’t have horns)

And this is a ram (they do).

It is one of a number of Welsh mountain breeds and was established in the 19th century by a group of breeders in the Tywi Valley in Central Wales. The area was badly hit by the severe winter of 1946-1947, and the breed was nearly wiped out, with only one ram surviving. Some of the ewes may have been in lamb to rams that did not survive. Enthusiasts managed to keep the breed going and during the 1950s and 1960s there was a steady increase, though it is still on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s watch list. The breed is popular with smallholders due to its attractive markings, hardiness, ease of care and excellent meat.

I couldn’t choose between these two delightful videos of lambs, so here are both.

You can read more about them at the Balwen Welsh Mountain Sheep Society.

***

This week a buzzard flew close to me being pursued by a crow. It has always puzzled me why a buzzard, which is twice the size of the crow and equipped with fearsome talons, doesn’t simply advise the crow to fly off. Does anyone know the answer? Here is a similar scene.

***

Since the start of the week the Ribble bank has been dotted with the blue of speedwell flowers. On closer examination I realised that there are two varieties growing.

This is common field speedwell (Veronica persica) which has sky blue flowers with a white lower lip.

And this is germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) with intense azure flowers.

***

Finally, don’t forget that reader Kathy Nel (‘linuslimmy’) is collating anecdotal evidence about bird and insect numbers, either increases or decreases (or even static). Send your comments and observations to this address: missingcritters@yahoo.com. If you leave a comment below the line, we need a geographical location to be able to use it.

If you appreciated this article, perhaps you might consider making a donation to The Conservative Woman. Unlike most other websites, we receive no independent funding. Our editors are unpaid and work entirely voluntarily as do the majority of our contributors but there are inevitable costs associated with running a website. We depend on our readers to help us, either with regular or one-off payments. You can donate here. Thank you.

Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

Sign up for TCW Daily

Each morning we send The ConWom Daily with links to our latest news. This is a free service and we will never share your details.