5 top tips for seeing a hawfinch this winter

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5 top tips for seeing a hawfinch this winter

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If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise. A handsome finch, so secretive and scarce that even the keenest birders go years without catching a glimpse of one is invading the UK in numbers not seen in living memory. This big-beaked beauty is turning up literally everywhere, providing unprecedented opportunities to see one in the UK. My blog this week aims to help you do just that.

This classy bird has created a media storm, so perhaps you are already aware that autumn 2017 has been the autumn of the hawfinch. A seed crop failure on the continent seems to be the cause as large numbers have been seen elsewhere in Western Europe over the last three weeks, or so. Every day has seen flocks of hawfinches piling in and flying overhead in all sorts of locations as they seek to get to grips with their new, temporary home, find the best feeding spots and team up with others of their own kind.

I’m among the many birders that have already added it to their garden list, which is something I never would have thought possible. I was enjoying a morning cup of tea on our landing when I picked up their characteristic call and watched two drop into hawthorns in the garden. They spent a couple of minutes perched there before they zoomed off in opposite directions and that was that.

I’ve also been lucky to be able to enjoy several here at The Lodge. I’ve worked here for 12 years and have never even come close to even a sniff of one but tea breaks and lunch breaks have delivered more than once making coming to work even more enjoyable than usual!


The hawfinch is an absolute stunner - this one captured by Nature's Home wildlife photography expert Ben Andrew

Five steps to hawfinch success
You will probably never have a better chance to see a hawfinch, so here are a few tips to ensure you cash in on the current invasion now and over the winter as the birds stay in the flocks they are now forming in our woods. I predict that good flocks will be available for the next few months, which is very exciting news for the winter ahead!

1) Learn the call. Every hawfinch I have seen so far in the last couple of weeks, I have heard first. Listen out for the flight notes and keep your ears open at all times. If you hear the call, get your eyes to the skies and look for a short-tailed, “front-heavy” finch bounding over, flashing prominent pale patches in its wings and on the end of its tail.

2) Get to grips with your tree ID. Hornbeams are the tree of choice it seems with the birds feasting on the seeds. Apparently in some spots, you can hear them munching on the seeds via a constant “crackle” as those enormous beaks get to work! Yew trees are also worth a look and the invaders have also been seen munching on haws on hawthorns.

3) Get up early and watch the skies. New arrivals are still being seen in the first couple of hours after dawn as they finish their migration from the continent. Make yourself comfortable and watch the skies to see if you can get lucky. High ground is particularly good as the birds tend to hug it and follow lines of hills.

4) Find a clear viewpoint. Rather than standing in a wood, surrounded by trees and with limited viewing, stand on the edge or in a clearing so you get a clear view of the treetops and more sky in which to see them flying over.

5) Hang about in the afternoons. Hawfinches roost communally, so as well as trying an early morning stint for new arrivals and early "just got up" action, linger until late afternoon in woodland and parkland settings. You might get lucky with several birds heading over to roost, or better still perching up in the treetops before dropping down into thicker cover to spend the night.

Have you seen one?
Have you seen a hawfinch this autumn? Please leave a comment below, or e-mail the Nature's Home team at natureshome@rspb.org.uk

Good luck!

There are lots more wildlife-watching tips in Nature's Home magazine every quarter and it is free to every RSPB member. We're now bringing you the action month-by-month, so you'll never be short of ideas and advice to help you make the most of each season and find the best wildlife!

Comments
  • Many thanks both.

    Apologies for the broken link and thanks for flagging Paddy. Now fixed, so please do have a listen to the call - it is really, really helpful! Good luck.

  • Great tips - would be even better if the link to the call would give me the actual audio, and not the error "Access Denied You do not have permissions to perform the requested action."

  • Great tips, thanks!