Northern (or East Siberian) Bullfinch

Still wondering…

I am still wondering about a male Northern Bullfinch I saw near Whitby in late October 2004. The interest in the origins of ‘trumpeting’ Northern Bullfinch has been reignited, with a bird in Wells Woods, Norfolk. So I thought I post it and see what can be learned. I found the bird with 2 females on the coastal path. It certainly ticked the tame box. I was only digiscoping in those days, no DSLR. In photographing I tried to stand as far back as possible but was prevented by the narrow footpath and thick hedge. It was hard to get the whole bird properly on the picture.

It’s a male. A great big fat male and it was feeding on nettle seeds (of all things!)

You can see the cold pinkish tones in the underparts and cold rather pale greyish upperparts. The odd character was the greater covert bar.

White and broad but with the white bleeding  in thin lines up the outer edges of the feathers. The thin white ‘bleed’ gets longer on the inner greater coverts (partly obscured).

Looking into Northern Bullfinch identification I visited the Natural History Museum at Tring.

Very thin strings of white bleeding up the outer edges of the greater coverts is a character I only found on East Siberian birds (ssp. cassini). Certainly Scandinavian(Northern) Bullfinches regularly have a ‘saw-toothed’  upper edge to the greater covert bar. But on this bird, I would suggest its a little more than a ‘saw-toothed edge. Its a subtle difference. Hope you can see what I mean in the photos.

Photo of vagrant male cassini in Alaska here (scroll down):

Now I am not saying the Whitby male was ssp. cassiniThe sample size was too limited. However I have not convincingly found an example of  Northern Bullfinch amoung Scandinavian Bullfinch photos in subsequent years with such a wing pattern.  Maybe there were some more like this around in 2004. I have never had enough data to take it further but it has always left me intrigued (as some who have heard me give an evening talk on birds may have already heard). Where was it from really? Common sense might suggest not that far. With a Redpoll ringed in eastern China and controlled in Belgium though, I am not adverse to keeping options open!

Comments welcome

male Northern Bullfinch, above Robin Hood’s Bay, nr Whitby, October 2004. Trumpeting calls were heard from the little flock of 3 birds, though I can’t specifically say this male gave them. However his striking pattern of white on the greater coverts has always left me questioning his true origin.

I found this 1st winter female Northern Bullfinch at Flamborough in late October 2003. Nervously identified (on sight views), thankfully it ended up in Mike Pearson’s mist net and the ID was confirmed on wing length. Got me hooked on Northern Bullies.

1st winter male Northern Bullfinch. The Point, Spurn, 18th October 2010. Richard Willison.

I saw this one with its plump body and incredibly broad and grey wing bar– typical of some Scandinavian males. It also has a ‘saw-toothed’ edge to the upperside of the wingbar- slightly obscured but just discernible. Compare with the upper edge of white wingbar on the 2004  Whitby bird, which effectively bleeds white in a thin line along the outer edge of the feathers.

This 1st winter female ‘Northern’ at the Point, Spurn accompanied the 1st winter male (above) together with another female. 23rd October 2010. This also has a slight saw-toothed upper edge to the wing bar. No trumpeting calls were heard from this group.


One thought on “Northern (or East Siberian) Bullfinch

  1. Sal

    Wow! Those are some great pictures you took of those bullfinch. I would love to get some pairs for my private collection. Keep those shots coming.. Thanks.. Sal


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