European Bullfinch

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Is the European Bullfinch right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Eurasian Bullfinch; Bullfinch; Common Bullfinch; Bully

Scientific name: Pyrrhula pyrrhula

The basics:
The beautiful Bullfinch has been trained as a songbird for hundreds of years, thanks to its ability to pick up tunes and whistles from human teachers. It is probably one of the most highly respected European finches, but its diet of tree buds caused it to be banned from importation into the United States as a potential orchard pest. Today, it is something of a forgotten gem rarely encountered in America.

There are nine subspecies of the highly successful, widespread European Bullfinch. This woodland species can be encountered widely across Europe and the more temperate and cooler parts of Asia, where it can be seen feeding on buds or seeds of fruit trees. A large subspecies from Siberia, the nominate P. p. pyrrhula, is occasionally sought out by breeders because of its impressive size.

A male Bullfinch, once seen, is not easily forgotten. It is a strong, stocky-looking finch with a black head and bill that contrasts dramatically with the rosy underparts. Females are noticeably duller, with a soft gray replacing the deep rose.

30 grams (1 oz.)

Average size:
15 - 17 centimeters (6 - 6.7 in.)

10 - 15 years

Behavior / temperament:
The gentle and intelligent European Bullfinch can learn to whistle a tune if you train it early enough. Don't leave its song to chance. You may play canary tunes or other whistled tunes of your choice, but you must start early, so that the bird can pick up the lessons while it's still open to learning. A single pet can also learn to fly to your hand for treats but, again, be realistic. You must start early. It may be impossible to tame or train an adult Bullfinch.

Fortunately, housing the European Bullfinch is fairly easy. Because of their thick bodies, you can find properly sized parrot cages that will give them plenty of room to fly without the worry of a too-wide bar spacing. Pairs can also be bred in roomy cages. They are extremely hardy, cold-tolerant birds and can be housed in outdoor walk-in avaries in many areas, even in the north. The name “bully” is a British term referring to the thick “bull” neck of the bird, not its behavior, and these pleasant birds have been kept successfully in mixed species aviaries with smaller species. One breeder reports a charming story of a Zebra Finch trying to “help” the Bullfinches sit on their nest, and the Bullfinches never chased the little busybody away. Instead, the aviary owner had to remove the Zebra Finch.

The specialized diet of the European Bullfinch is part of the reason for its tumble from popularity. In addition to a good small seed finch mix and a high quality pellet, it needs access to edible fruit tree buds; rosebuds; blackberry or raspberry buds, flowers, and fruits; other small fruits and berries; and live insects. Eggfood and additional live food should be offered in the breeding season. Avoid high fat seeds like sunflower, as they may be linked to a disease that brings early death to this species. A calcium supplement may also be necessary. Don't hesitate to ask breeders where they buy or gather unsprayed foods and healthy supplements.

Written by Elaine Radford

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