February and March are by far the best months to look for Hawfinches at Nagshead. This large, but elusive finch holds almost legendary status amongst keen birders. Despite their size (approaching the size of a Redwing), Hawfinches can be surprisingly difficult to locate, even when you can hear one calling in the tree above you. They tend to stick to the very top section of the trees when resting and will only drop down to the ground to feed amongst the leaf litter when danger or disturbance (including us) has passed. As winter comes to an end, food sources can be few and far between. As a result, small flocks of Hawfinches congregate at the last remaining feeding areas before dispersing to breed in spring. Hornbeam and Beech mast, Blackthorn, Hawthorn and Yew stones are the favored food at this time. The following video shows a Hawfinch feeding on the last of the Hawthorn berries along the entrance track to Nagshead recently.
The very best way to locate Hawfinches is to learn their contact calls. The most widely known call is a metallic Robin like 'tick', although they also have a 'seep' call which can be difficult to pick out amongst other bird calls. They also call in flight and can be identified by their bulky, large billed, short tailed appearance, with undulating flight and broad white wing bars. If you would like to hear more about the enigmatic Hawfinch and have a very good chance of seeing the species, why not join us on our Hawfinch Hunt guided walk at Nagshead. We still have places available on Sunday 1st March; booking details can be found here.