The Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) is Britain’s largest finch measuring seven inches from beak to tail. It also has possibly the largest Latin name of any British bird! Its thick necked appearance is due to it having very large and strong muscles to power its huge triangular bill, which can generate about 110 pounds of force! This is needed to open its favourite foods, being the seeds of many trees including cherry stones!
- Its diet also includes insects.
- In flight it shows a distinctive white wing-bar and white tip to its tail.
- It breeds from late April to July and although the male will gather nesting material, the female builds the nest. This is made up of an untidy structure of twigs and grass, lined with lichen and hair. It is usually built high up in the canopy of a deciduous tree in the fork of a branch.
- Between two and seven eggs are laid, which can be a variety of pale shades with dark markings. The eggs are incubated for nearly two weeks by the female and the fledglings leave the nest after a further two weeks.
The Hawfinch is very much a European bird, breeding mainly in Britain, Central and Eastern Europe. It also has more isolated populations in central Asia and the Far East. In Britain the Hawfinch was only recorded as a rare winter visitor in the 18th century. In the early 1830’s a colony was discovered in Epping Forest in Essex and later in other south east counties. It continued to expand its range and by the late 1960’s was in Aberdeenshire. Since its peak population between 1983 and 1990, there has been a significant decline. In winter, one popular site in the south east is at Bedgebury Pinetum in Kent. It is prone, like Waxwing and Crossbill, to ‘erupt’ and leave its traditional breeding areas and invade countries farther away in the hunt for more food crops. In October 2017, one of these eruptions occurred and England and eastern Wales was host to many hundreds of birds searching for suitable seeds to eat.