Hawfinch

Species focus: Hawfinches

  • Red-listed as numbers across the UK decline
  • 2012 RSPB ecologists began investigating
  • Winter 2017/18 saw high numbers in the UK
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Welcome visitors at The Lodge

It was a big winter for red-listed hawfinches at The Lodge.

The Lodge had some unexpected but welcome visitors over the winter: hawfinches. Acting Warden Beth Aucott says, “We had a huge influx, which was very exciting for me as I’d never seen these birds before. In fact, winter 2017/18 saw unusually high numbers of hawfinches across the UK, particularly in the south-east of England.” 

The UK’s largest finch, hawfinches have a massive, powerful bill. They’re usually shy and difficult to see, but visitors to The Lodge were treated to some spectacular, close-up views. 

“Hawfinches like to perch high up in trees and our unexpected guests began feeding off the berries in the yews around the visitor car park,” Beth recalls. “We also put food out to help them survive winter. We don’t normally have hawfinches at Sandy, so the cause of their sudden arrival is a bit of a mystery, although it’s likely they were blown off course by one of the big winter storms.”

Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes, male at site baited with sunflower seed

Helping hawfinches in the UK

Sadly, hawfinches are red-listed as a conservation priority, with the species needing urgent action. We don’t know why numbers and range across the UK are declining but, interestingly, they are stable or even increasing over much of mainland Europe. The RSPB is working alongside other partners to investigate factors that might be important, in order to identify the best conservation solutions to help them. 

Breeding hawfinches are now restricted to just a few core areas in the UK with the main populations in the New Forest, Forest of Dean, parts of north Wales, south Cumbria and Kent. Since 2012, RSPB scientists have been investigating hawfinch ecology, following their nesting attempts and tracking them with miniature radio transmitters to help understand what they need in terms of habitat and food.

Hawfinch hotspots

In the early part of the year, hawfinches regularly visit Lynford Arboretum in Norfolk and RSPB Nagshead in Gloucestershire. Other places to look for them include Sizergh Castle, Cumbria; Blackwater Arboretum, Hampshire; and Rufford Country Park, Nottinghamshire. To spot this shy bird, stop beneath tall, berried trees, such as yews, and scan slowly upwards. They are more widespread in winter and, very occasionally, come to garden feeders where black sunflower seeds are a favourite.

Find out how to identify hawfinches at www.rspb.org.uk/hawfinch. Read about our woodland projects by searching for ‘Studies of priority woodland birds’. For details of the latest population trends visit bto.org/about-birds/birdfacts and find out about the latest sightings on Twitter @HawfinchesUK.

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