Posted 13th Nov 2017 by Peter Byrne
Wildlife lovers are getting an early Christmas treat, following the arrival of a huge number of hawfinches, the RSPB has reported
Hawfinches are the nutcrackers of the bird world, with massive, parrot like bills which are capable of cracking even the hardest of nutshells.
The influx is a real treat, as hawfinches are shy birds - there are believed to be less than 1,000 pairs in the UK.
Very attractive birds, they are patterned with autumnal shades, which include a rich chestnut head, rose-pink breast and black and white wing markings.
The number of hawfinches that nest in the UK have declined in recent years, but birds will travel to Britain from the Continent on the hunt for food.
This year, their numbers will appear much larger than normal, with hundreds of sightings recorded - in birdwatching terms, this is known as an 'irruption'.
Lizzie Bruce, a warden at RSPB Headquarters The Lodge, said: "In our county alone over 230 hawfinches have been counted. That’s extraordinary, as in most years we are lucky to see one or two. At The Lodge we’ve had up to four hawfinches in the tops of the birch and yew trees with single birds flying over most days in October."
"This has caused great excitement for our visitors and RSPB staff, who have been dropping everything and running out the office to catch a glimpse of one perched at the top of a tree."
The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has produced a chart which shows exactly how the numbers have risen this winter. The chart shows there's been a big 'spike' this year - so what has caused this influx?
Lizzie said: "Typically irruptions are associated with failing food supply: too many birds, or not enough food for them to survive the winter. This happened with waxwings last year."
"The weather is also a factor. Hawfinches traditionally migrate south from their breeding grounds in Central Europe towards the Mediterranean. This year their migration coincided with the arrival of Storm Ophelia which headed eastwards from the Atlantic swirling anti clockwise, with the strong winds pushing many of the migrating hawfinches into the UK. This theory probably explains why the majority of hawfinches were seen in the South of England and into Wales."
RSPB scientists are studying the exact reasons why hawfinches aren't nesting in the UK as widely as they used to. They're currently investigating whether the availability of food could be a problem, in collaboration with Cardiff University. The RSPB research is funded by the Action for Birds in England programme, and was conducted in collaboration with local volunteer ringing projects supported by Forestry Commission, Natural Resources Wales and BTO.
Winter is one of the best times to see the birds while many trees are bare - hawfinches will flock together at dusk to roost in trees for the night, and will gather during the day to look for food.
Image courtesy of Andy Hay