Bullfinch: the bird profiles


I am particularly interested in garden wildlife which is why I did my Master's degree with a focus on "animal ecology". I am convinced that beneficial insects and wildlife are a sustainable and effective alternative to many of the products we use on our plants. I am also a passionate birdwatcher and rarely go for a walk without my binoculars.

Favourite fruit: kiwi, apple and redcurrant
Favourite vegetables: tomatoes and green beans

When does the bullfinch breed? How to identify a bullfinch? And what does a juvenile bullfinch look like? You can find this as well as Eurasian bullfinch facts and photos in this in-depth article.

Bright orange bullfinch on tree branch
The bullfinch is a burst of colour in any landscape [Photo: Jesus Giraldo Gutierrez/ Shutterstock.com]

The bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) is a rather showy songbird that makes its presence known with bold, colourful plumage and a pipe whistling song. As the second part of its name suggests, the bullfinch belongs to the finch family, so is related to the familiar chaffinches and greenfinches. Because of its beautiful, coloured plumage, for a long time the bullfinch was captured and kept in cages. Even today, there are still breeders who trade them, despite it being illegal to capture wild birds. You can find more exciting facts and pictures of the bullfinch here in our detailed look into this species.

Bullfinch: key facts

Sizeabout 15-18cm
Weightabout 25g
Breeding seasonMay-June
Lifespanup to 8 years
Habitatwoodland, parks, and gardens
Food preferencesseeds and buds
Threatsloss of habitat and food sources

How to identify the bullfinch

The bullfinch is one of the most striking songbirds. It has a compact, almost rounded shape with a bulky head that resembles that of a bull. Its back and shoulders are a pale blue grey, blending into black wings and tail tips. The bullfinch’s head is adorned with a black cap that extends over its eyes and short, sturdy beak.

Round bullfinch with grey shoulders and black wings and cap
The bullfinch is unmistakable [Photo: TCreativeMedia/ Shutterstock.com]

How can you tell female and male bullfinches apart?

The distinction between a bullfinch male and female is quite simple compared to other songbird species. While the males display their typical orange-red breast and belly, the female bullfinches are more plainly coloured with olive-brown underneath.

Orange male bullfinch next to olive grey female bullfinch
Female bullfinches (left) are coloured more plainly than the males (right) [Photo: Ondrej Prosicky/ Shutterstock.com]

What does the bullfinch song sound like?

For such a powerfully built bird, the bullfinch has a rather quiet song. This consists of a mixture of whistling tones, melancholic calls and occasional choked, high-pitched notes. The bullfinch’s call can often only be heard at close range and often even goes unnoticed.

What is the perfect bullfinch habitat?

Bullfinches prefer to live in dense coniferous or mixed forests. But they also feel at home in urban parks and gardens, as long as there is enough undergrowth and a conifer tree or two.

Where does the bullfinch build its nest?

The bullfinch usually builds its nest in a conifer or bushy shrub. The nest is placed only a few metres above the ground and is very well hidden in the dense vegetation. It is built as a kind of platform of fine brushwood on twigs.

What do bullfinch eggs look like?

Bullfinch females lay between 4 and 6 bluish to greenish eggs covered with dark spots. The eggs are laid on the nest platform in a bed of moss, fine stalks, and feathers.

Nest of blue green bullfinch eggs with dark spots
Bullfinches lay bluish to greenish eggs [Photo: Steve Buckley/ Shutterstock.com]

When is the bullfinch breeding season?

Bullfinches breed from May to June. After laying the eggs, the female incubates the clutch for about 14 days, during which time the male brings food. After hatching, the baby bullfinches are born naked and blind and are completely dependent on the care of their parents for the first few days. After about three weeks, they are finally fully grown and fly the nest. But even after this point, they still cling to their parents for some time and are supported by them in their search for food.

How do you identify a juvenile bullfinch?

Young bullfinches are not yet as colourful as their parents. Even the male young birds look like their mothers – plain olive-brown in colour. Juvenile bullfinches also still lack the black caps of the adults. However, they can be recognised by their stocky shape, their stout beak, and the dark tips of their tail and wings.

Young bullfinch bird with olive brown plumage black wings and tail but no black cap
Juvenile bullfinches are still quite plain [Photo: Giedriius/ Shutterstock.com]

Where does the bullfinch go in winter?

Bullfinches are mainly resident birds (birds that do not migrate). They can be found in their breeding grounds all year round. Often, in late spring, smaller family groups can be found together, roaming the countryside in search of food. Occasionally, however, female and juvenile bullfinches also migrate south and do not return to their breeding grounds until spring.

Bright orange bullfinch on snowy tree
The bullfinch adds a splash of colour to wintry landscapes [Photo: Roland IJdema/ Shutterstock.com]

Help the bullfinch!

The colourful bullfinches can also feel right at home in gardens. You can help by installing a bird feeder or providing suitable nesting aids to make it easier for them to settle. In exchange, they will give you a great opportunity for bird watching. In the following section, you will learn what the bullfinch needs for nesting and how you can make your garden bullfinch friendly.

What do bullfinches eat?

The bullfinch diet consists mainly of plant seeds, buds, and fruit pips. However, during the breeding season they also hunt for protein-rich caterpillars, snails, and insects, which they then feed to their young.

Bullfinch feeding on berries
Bullfinches eat a mainly vegetarian diet [Photo: Erni/ Shutterstock.com]

With a bird feeder in the garden, it is easier for the colourful songbirds to find their daily food.

What kind of nesting boxes are suitable for bullfinches?

As they build open nests, bullfinches are not interested in nest boxes. These are more suitable for cavity-nesting species such as great spotted woodpeckers and coal tits. The perfect nesting spots for bullfinches, on the other hand, can be created with dense shrubs, hedges, or conifers. Always take care not to thin out the plants too much, because the birds prefer wild, bushy vegetation in which they can hide their nests from predators.

What else can you do to support bullfinches?

During the breeding season, bullfinches need animal food as well as plant food to raise their young. In our increasingly monocultural landscape, however, numbers of insects and other small animals are declining. With a lively garden buzzing with insects, you can help combat this and support lots of other garden birds at the same time. Planting insect-friendly flowers and native plants and avoiding chemical sprays are a good start to breathing a little more life and wildness into your garden.

Of course, other wild birds also benefit from a bird-friendly garden. One of them, which like the bullfinch was kept as a caged bird for a long time, is the European serin. Get to know this garden bird a little better in our in-depth article.