Big thank you from

Bullfinch's rapid rate of fruit attack too much for some

by Paul Cormacain

CAME across a frog today. She was in a field, about a kilometre away from water, which seems to prove the point that frogs only go to water in the breeding season, otherwise they stay well clear of it.

Nearby we saw three bullfinches.

This type of finch is rather shy and retiring, if beautifully coloured, and the questions must be asked - why does this lovely bird hide?

Why does it not reveal some of its beauty to us all?

The reason for the bird's retiring nature may well lie in the fact that the colouring is so bright, perhaps it feels that its best safety arrangements lie in not drawing attention to itself.

The female of this bird is dull grey above, brownish grey below, with black wings and a black cap. The tails are also black.

What the male and female have in common, and what is one of their best identifying features, is the striking white rump. There is also a white patch on the wings.

The male bullfinch is a dumpy bird, with soft pinkish-red underparts, blue-grey upperparts, and black wings, tail and cap.

The young lack the black cap and it was noticeable that one of the bullfinches we saw had no black cap. I can only think there were other young around, unseen, or all but one of the offspring had already fled nest and family.

Although the bullfinch is a beautiful bird it has attracted quite a few enemies over the years. There is the usual cat, the usual sparrowhawk, perhaps the kestrel, and on top of all that, there is man.

From about January to April the natural food source for the bullfinch tends to be in short supply. To survive the bird goes for fruit trees and nips the fruit in the bud.

For every one nipped there is one fruit less. People who grow fruit do not like this!

One particular observation some decades ago tells the full story.

A bullfinch was watched one day when it went on the rampage, attacking the fruit buds of a plum tree Over a period of one minute the finch dispatched no less than 30 buds. At that rate of going it would not take long to denude an orchard.

So fruit growers have no time for the bullfinch. Except me, of course. The bullfinches can visit our garden anytime.

Legally we are not allowed to harm birds as a general rule. In some districts, which have a high fruit-growing interest, however, the bullfinch has been deprived of protection.

It is believed that bullfinches are very loyal birds and they mate for life. Because of its unobtrusive lifestyle it is difficult to be sure of numbers, but the consensus is that the population is increasing. Must be plenty of fruit.

In the last 200 years the bird is believed to have extended its range northwards and westwards in both Ireland and Britain. It is more common than its sightings would suggest, and is now only missing from north Scotland and west Ireland. It can still come into our garden anytime.

Coming Events

Saturday 14 June - Wildlife Trust invites you to spend the evening at Lagan Meadows, at 7pm to admire the wildlife. Details from Malachy Martin, 4483 0282.

Saturday 21 June - Summer solstice time. Why not go along to Oxford Island, admire the wildlife and make your own sun-dial? For more information phone 3832 2205.

Sunday 29 June - Butterfly Conservation is on the trail of the large heath butterfly, at 11am, in north Antrim, with Trevor Boyd, from whom more details on 9185 2276.

Ulster Star