Eurasian bullfinch

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Eurasian bullfinch
Male in Lancashire, UK
Female in Lancashire, UK
Song and calls recorded in Surrey, England
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Fringillidae
Subfamily: Carduelinae
Genus: Pyrrhula
P. pyrrhula
Binomial name
Pyrrhula pyrrhula
Range of P. pyrrhula

Loxia pyrrhula Linnaeus, 1758

The Eurasian bullfinch, common bullfinch or bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) is a small passerine bird in the finch family, Fringillidae. In Anglophone Europe it is known simply as the bullfinch, as it is the original bird to bear the name bullfinch.

Taxonomy and systematics[edit]

The Eurasian bullfinch was formally described in 1758 by Linnaeus in the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae under the binomial name Loxia pyrrhula.[2][3] It is now placed in the genus Pyrrhula that was introduced in 1760 by the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson.[4][5] The Latin word pyrrhula comes from the Greek πυρρός (a flame-coloured bird, from πυρρός flame coloured, from πυρ fire : Pyrrha), a 'worm eating bird' that is mentioned by Aristotle.[6] The Latin name pyrrhula for the Eurasian bullfinch had been used in 1555 by the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner in his Historiae animalium.[7]


Ten subspecies are recognised:[5]

  • P. p. pileata MacGillivray, W, 1837 – British Isles
  • P. p. pyrrhula (Linnaeus, 1758) – north, south central and east Europe across to central Siberia
  • P. p. europaea Vieillot, 1816 – western Europe
  • P. p. iberiae Voous, 1951 – southwest France, northern Iberian Peninsula
  • P. p. rossikowi Derjugin & Bianchi, 1900 – northeast Turkey and the Caucasus
  • P. p. cineracea Cabanis, 1872 (Baikal bullfinch) – west Siberia and northeast Kazakhstan to east Siberia and northeast China
  • P. p. caspica Witherby, 1908 – Azerbaijan and north Iran
  • P. p. cassinii Baird, SF, 1869 – east Siberia
  • P. p. griseiventris Lafresnaye, 1841 – Kuril Islands and north Japan
  • P. p. rosacea Seebohm, 1882 – Sakhalin (island north of Japan)

The Azores bullfinch (P. murina), previously regarded as a subspecies of the Eurasian bullfinch, is now recognised as a separate species.[8][5]


The Eurasian bullfinch is a bulky bull-headed bird. The upper parts are grey; the flight feathers and short thick bill are black; as are the cap and face in adults (they are greyish-brown in juveniles), and the white rump and wing bars are striking in flight. The adult male has red underparts, but females and young birds have grey-buff underparts. It moults between July and October, but males do not have the duller autumn plumage that is typical of some other finches.[9] The song of this unobtrusive bird contains fluted whistles, and is often described as 'mournful'. This Bullfinch's usual call is a quiet, low, melancholy whistled “peeu” or “pew.” The song is audible only at close range. It is a weak, scratchy warbling, alternating with soft whistles. Tamed bullfinches can be taught to repeat specific melodies.[10]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

This bird breeds across Europe and temperate Asia. It is mainly resident, but many northern birds migrate further south in the winter. Mixed woodland with some conifers is favoured for breeding, including parkland and gardens.

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

This species does not form large flocks outside the breeding season, and is usually seen as a pair or family group.


It builds its nest in a bush, (preferably more than four metres tall and wide), mature stands of scrub, or tree, laying four to seven pale blue eggs which are mottled with red-brown. It is peculiar among the Passeriformes for having spermatozoa with a rounded head and a blunt acrosome.[11] This species produces two or three broods per season, from early May to mid-July.

Food and feeding[edit]

Bullfinches on ash
Pyrrhula pyrrhula
Male with young bird in Austria
Young male in England
Eggs of P. pyrrhula europoea MHNT

The food is mainly seeds and buds of fruit trees, which can make it a pest in orchards: in England, for centuries every parish paid a bounty for every Eurasian bullfinch killed. Ash and hawthorn are favoured in autumn and early winter.[12] If wild bird cover is planted for it, kale, quinoa and millet are preferred, next to tall hedges or woodland.


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2018). "Pyrrhula pyrrhula". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T22720671A132141969. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22720671A132141969.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. ^ Paynter, Raymond A. Jnr., ed. (1968). Check-list of birds of the world, Volume 14. Vol. 14. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 296.
  3. ^ Linnaeus, C. (1758). Systema Naturæ per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis, Volume 1 (in Latin). Vol. v.1 (10th ed.). Holmiae:Laurentii Salvii. pp. 171–172.
  4. ^ Brissons, M.J. (1760). Ornithologie, Volume 1. Vol. 1. Paris: Chez C.J.-B. Bauche. p. 36.
  5. ^ a b c Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (January 2021). "Finches, euphonias". IOC World Bird List Version 11.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
  6. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 327. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  7. ^ Gesner, Conrad (1555). Historiæ animalium liber III qui est de auium natura. Adiecti sunt ab initio indices alphabetici decem super nominibus auium in totidem linguis diuersis: & ante illos enumeratio auium eo ordiné quo in hoc volumine continentur (in Latin). Zurich: Froschauer. pp. 701–702.
  8. ^ Sangster, G.; et al. (2011). "Taxonomic recommendations for British birds: seventh report". Ibis. 153 (4): 883–892. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.2011.01155.x.
  9. ^ RSPB Handbook of British Birds (2014). ISBN 978-1-4729-0647-2.
  10. ^ Springer. "Songbirds turn on and tune up: Bullfinches have the brain power to learn to sing human melodies accurately". Retrieved 2022-04-16.
  11. ^ Birkhead, Timothy R.; Immler, Simone; Pellatt, E. Jayne; Freckleton, Robert (2006). "Unusual sperm morphology in the Eurasian Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)". Auk. 123 (2): 383–392. doi:10.1642/0004-8038(2006)123[383:USMITE]2.0.CO;2. S2CID 85709337.
  12. ^ Dyda J, Symes N and Lamacraft D (2009) Woodland management for birds: a guide to managing woodland for priority birds in Wales. The RSPB, Sandy and Forestry Commission Wales, Aberystwyth, ISBN 978-1-905601-15-8

External links[edit]