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Hawfinch

23/11/2017

Haw haw haw - the Christmas nutcracker has landed

An unusually high number of giant finches look likely to arrive in Scotland this winter.


There have been record sightings of hawfinches in England and Wales and now they are reportedly travelling north with several already having been spotted here in the last week.


The influx is a real treat as these birds are shy and elusive, and there are thought to be fewer than 1000 pairs in the UK.


Hawfinches are the nutcrackers of the bird world, with their massive parrot like bills that can crack even the hardest nutshells. They are also very attractive birds, patterned with autumnal shades, including a rich chestnut head, rose-pink breast and black and white wing markings.


The number of hawfinches that nest in the UK has declined dramatically in recent years, but each winter birds from the Continent travel to Britain searching for food.


This year, however, the numbers seen have been much larger than normal, with hundreds of sightings recorded. In birdwatching terms, this is called an “irruption”.

Andy Robinson, from RSPB Scotland, said: “Hawfinches are beautiful birds that really stand out when compared to our other finches, such as the much more common chaffinch. They're normally very difficult to see, but with the large numbers already recorded further south this autumn, wildlife watchers in Scotland could be in for a treat.


“The birds are thought to be moving north searching for food, and we've already had sightings from the Glasgow and Stirling areas, the Lothians, and remoter sites, including Tiree.


“They may not be the most likely bird to visit your garden feeders but they do like sunflower seeds, and you may see them passing through, particularly if your garden contains mature trees. You also might see them in areas of woodland, such as parkland, or in botanic gardens and churchyards.”


RSPB scientists are studying the reasons why hawfinches do not nest in the UK as widely as they used to. They are currently investigating whether availability of food maybe a problem, in collaboration with Cardiff University.


Winter is one of the best times to see these birds, as the leaves are off the trees, and they start to flock together at roost sites and to find food.