NATURE NOTES - All about the brambling

WE were watching a very handsome male brambling this weekend and it got me thinking how uncommon brambling are now here in Haigh as opposed to twenty years ago when we used to get dozens of them in the woodlands feeding on the beech mast which forms part of their diet.

The Brambling is sometimes described as the Chaffinch of the north, for in the pine and birch forests of Scandinavia they replace the Chaffinch as the commonest bird.

Bramblings are easily recognised by the obvious orange on the breast that extends across the shoulders and onto their wings.

In winter the head and mantle are usually a blotchy grey-brown but in some birds these wear away to produce a stunning black head, even before they depart back to Scandinavia.

In flight they show a neat rectangular white patch down the rump as well as white and orange in the wing. The numbers reaching Britain can vary tremendously, depending on weather conditions and other factors. Some years as little as 50,000 birds will spend the winter with us whereas in others the population can approach two million.

If the winter is particularly harsh, with snow cover making feeding difficult, individual bramblings may take food from garden feeding trays, even in urban areas.

However, they are relatively uncommon garden visitors in comparison with other finches.

I’ve never heard one sing here in the UK - its song is somewhat similar to that of the Greenfinch, but its pitch varies less.

They occasionally breed in the conifer forests of north west Scotland where the nest is built entirely by the female usually in a conifer tree close to the trunk.

The deep cup is built from moss, grass and hair, lined with feathers and wool, and decorated with bark and lichen. The smooth, glossy eggs are greenish to brownish with dark brown markings, and approximately 19mm by 15mm.

The female incubates the eggs by herself but both parents feed the nestlings with insects and larvae for up to another 14 days in the nest and also for a short time after fledging. Insects are also the food of adult birds during the summer months. The brambling is not regarded as being under immediate threat as a species, although many birdwatchers may not see a brambling very often.

However, it is possible that bramblings are seen more often than is realised, due to their habit of mixing with chaffinch flocks and therefore possibly being mistaken for the more familiar bird.

ID ing the brambling

Brambling has a white rump whereas that of Chaffinch is grey-green; the breast is orange, contrasting with a white belly on Brambling, whereas on Chaffinch the underparts of more uniformly coloured (pink or buff); Brambling’s scapulars are orange, whereas Chaffinch’s are grey or grey-brown; the flanks are dark-spotted on Brambling, plain on Chaffinch;

Bramblings lack the white outer tail feathers of Chaffinch.

An additional difference for all plumages except breeding-plumaged males is the bill colour - yellow in Brambling, dull pinkish in Chaffinch (breeding-plumaged male Bramblings have black bills, Chaffinches in the corresponding plumage have grey bills)

Factoid! The oldest recorded wild bird (through ringing information) is 14.8 years old!