Uploaded to Commons by babbage { MPF}

Courtesy of Andreas Overland. Oslo ,Norway. CC BY-SA 3.0 license.


The Hawfinch belongs to the Order of birds known as the Passeriformes and the family Carduelidae within that order. they have been allocated the scientific name of Coccothraustes coccothraustes ,which derives from the Greek Kokkos indicating a kernal+ thrauo-to break.

In the UK they are placed on the Red List of conservation concern because of recent breeding population declines {1981-2009},. { Declines of 50% or over }. Previous assessments placed them on the Amber list {declines of between 25% and 50%}.

Because they are a Red list species an action plan has been formulated and is currently being implemented on the birds behalf,under the UK's Biodiversity Action Plan {BAP},due to the alarming declines.

In the UK it is classed as a resident breeder/passage visitor. It is a bird of deciduous woodland and mixed woodland. With now an estimated population of 800 pairs in summer {2014}. { Source BTO}

In Europe they are not a bird of Conservation concern and the estimated population of between 2.3 and 4 million birds. The population varies from country to country, here are some selected examples. In Austria the population is estimated between 25,000 and 50,000 Breeding Pairs {BP},Belgium 5,200-15,000, Croatia 200,000-300,000 BP. France 50,000-250,000 BP,Germany 160,000-350,000 BP,Spain 5,000-10,000 BP, Russia 1000,000 -250,000 BP, and Ukraine 345,000,460,000 BP. { Source Birdlife } 2014.

The Gaelic name for the bird is Glaisean-gobach, the Welsh, Gylfinbraff. Irish-Glas n Gobmhr and Croatian, Batokjun tresnar.

Evening Grosbeak.

Taken in Quebec Canada

Courtesy of Cephas  CC BY-SA 3.0 License. {Taken in Canada}.

The genus Croccothrautes

This genus is a genus of large Finches which includes the Hawfinch and two grosbeaks, the Evening Grosbeak C.vespertinus and the Hooded Grosbeak C.abeillei.

They are large, bulky,short tailed species around 18 cm in length,with thick powerful bills for cracking the stones {kernels} of fruit. They are hardy species ,and even the two northern species usually only migrate from the coldest parts of their range.

The Evening Grosbeak of North America and the Hooded Grosbeak of South America are closely related and were sometimes classed in the genus Hesperiphona. The former breeds in Canada and the mountain regions of the western United States and the latter in the highlands of Central America. There are also five other sub-species around the world.

Here we review the European Hawfinch and as always we commence with a description of the subject under review.

European Hawfinch.

Courtesy of Dontworry   CC BY-SA 3.0 License.


Although the form of the Hawfinch is anything but graceful,its colouring is rather pleasing. The adult male has a head of a cinnamon colour, a line round the base of the bill.the lores,chin and throat are black. The nape is smoky grey. The back and scapulars a dull chestnut,somewhat paler on the rump and becoming rather yellow on the upper tail coverts.

The wings are bluish black,the median coverts white. The quills have a white patch near the middle of their inner webs,gradually increasing on the inner feathers and tipped with blue. The tail coverts are a cinnamon brown,much elongate. The tail feathers are black,with white on the inner extremities of the inner webs.

The under surface of the body is a pale dive -brown fading to white on the under tail coverts. The bill in summer bluish grey {sometimes more blue in some specimens-see header image},darker at the tips. In winter a brownish flesh colour. The feet are flesh coloured the iris whitish .

The female is duller in colour,with the white markings less pure


Swaysland, Familiar Wild Birds.

Familiar wild birds Courtesy of the Biodoversity Heritage Library.

General and historical information

The Hawfinch is resident in the UK, but it is probable that some of the young leave our shores at the approach of winter,their places being taken by immigrants from the north. It is the UK's largest finch adorned with a massive ,powerful bill. It is an elusive bird,always difficult to see. They are now mostly restricted to England,parts of England near the Welsh borders,the Home counties and the south east of Hampshire to Kent.

The do occur in small numbers elsewhere in the south of the country. In the New Forset populations are currently regarded as being stable. They also occur in the Lake District {north west England} and may be encountered at Sizergh Castle gardens and woodlands at Kendle Cumbria,run by the National Trust.

They are a bird more easily seen during the winter months when the trees are bare and they feed on the ground. It is a bird of well wooded localities and forest clearings,small woods, plantations,shrubberies and heavily timbered parks.

The flight of the bird is rapid and powerful somewhat undulating,when the bird is passing from tree to tree,but much more direct when log distances are being undertaken. On the wing it often utters a peculiar clicking sound which has been likened to the sound of a can of coke being opened.

Its diet consists, largely of seeds,those of the Hornbeam being relished However, when feeding its young it devours insects,especially caterpillars. later in the year it will eat cherry kernels,beech mast,yew berries and hawthorn berries,known as haws,and it is from these fruits which it eats in large numbers,that it acquired its common name.


Anne Pratte in her book ' Our Native Songsters',1853, relates that " Mr Selby,remarks of the Hawfinch, that it probably utters a superior song. Bechstein considered that the song is not very agreeable,consisting only of a low whistle mixed with some harsh tones"

As regards to the birds shyness,one ornithologist notes " In the this trait it exceeds any land bird with which I am acquainted,and in open places it is almost impossible to approach within gun shot". As soon as it hears a sound ,it flies off immediately to the very top of the tallest tree and mingles there with foliage,soon becoming invisible.

The Rev,P Alington in 1849 relates to us that " A Hawfinch came to feed on the gravel path walk. Upon my appearance,it would fly to the topmost branch of a nearby tree, and before I could get within gun-shot,would fall like a stone among the Laurel bushes,from whence I at last found it so difficult to dislodge it, that I was obliged to get a man on the other side with a stick to drive it out"

Swaysland, ' Familiar Wild Birds' says the species was once commonly known as the Grosbeak,French grosbeak and Hawgrosbeak

Hawfinch among foliage.

Taken in Poland.

Courtesy of Jerzystrzelecki CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Taken in Poland.

Hawfinch in captivity { historical notes}

In the days before it became illegal to keep wild birds in captivity { with a few licensed exceptions}, keeping birds in cages and aviaries was perfectly legal and a popular pastime. Bird catchers made a good living by obtaining the birds by any means {usually with nets} and selling them for such purposes mentioned above , but also to the markets for food.The following paragraphs relate to this period in our avian history.

Butler relates, that in autumn they were frequently caught in the nets of bird-catchers,and are disposed of at very moderate prices. In confinement they are given Sunflower seeds,Hemp,Oats ,Beech mast,and Canary millet.

" In September 1893, a Bird-catcher,brought me a specimen which had flown into his nets. He was evidently afraid to handle it, and cautioned me against touching it,without gloves,stating that its bite was frightful and drew blood. However, I soon had the bird in my hand and caged it. But although I placed the bird on a high shelf, the Hawfinch never became tame,but so wore the feathers of its wings and tail in its efforts to escape, that when,after a few weeks of captivity it died,the skin was not worth preserving. I am therefore convinced that the species should be turned into a large aviary or hand reared"

Speaking of a pair taken from a nest and brought to him in 1880, Lord Lilford says-" My two caged Hawfinch,readily devoured meal-worms and house flies, but I imagine that this is an un-natural and acquired taste.


As a pet the Hawfinch had little to recommend it according to one ornithologist-" It is not a pretty bird, it is quarrelsome,spiteful, and can on no account be trusted in an aviary with any species weaker than itself. It is moreover,fully as much trouble to its owner in respect of food as many a far more attractive species"

Yet according to the Rev.H A Macpherson,it has one merit,although its own song is insignificant,the Hawfinch," Is not wholly destitute of the imitative faculty. Nevertheless,when a bird has no beauty of form,and when its colouring is little superior to that of a hen Chaffinch,its song can not compensate for its deficiencies"

Conversely Bechstein stated the taming of this bird in captivity may give pleasure," For timid as it when wild, it then acquires confidence and will even defend itself very courageously by means of its strong beak,from dogs and cats"

Mrs Montague,heard it, some mild days in winter singing some sweet,although loud plaintive notes,and several other naturalists describe the song as sweet but little varied. Swaysland, notes.that " They are often mischievous if put into an aviary with other birds"

Keeping Wild Birds was once a popular pastime.

Breeding , nest and eggs.

About April time the Hawfinch chooses its mate and nesting commences in a short period of time.Bulky nests are constructed often on horizontal branches well concealed high up in broad-leaved trees. It is normally completed by late April to late June. The nest of this bird is somewhat like the one built by the Bullfinch**, being very shallow,and always formed on a foundation of twigs.

The foundation base and the whole of the external structure may also consist of twigs,strongly spined with twigs of leafless hawthorn which presents a formidable barrier. However, sometimes the twigs are inter-mixed with coarse roots and dead plants and even ornamented with lichens. The nest itself is built of dead grasses and bents, and lined with rootlets or hair.

The eggs which number four to five are deposited by the female. They are pale bluish-white or whitish blue and vary in their patterning like those of the Reed Bunting**. The surface spots,blotches and streak, being deep pitch brown with some underlying spots of lilac -grey.

The incubation period lasts for eleven to thirteen days and the task is undertaken by the female with occasional relief from the male. The chicks are fed a nutritious diet of caterpillars and other invertebrates and are ready to leave the nest in a further twelve to thirteen days.


The young birds lack the black on the throat,or grey on the nape. The head also tends to be yellower,and the under-surface of the body whiter. The mantle is mottled and the breast and flanks are barred with dark brown.

As soon as they are able to provide for themselves they unite with the old birds in flocks varying in number but generally around twenty birds,however, much larger flocks may be encountered.

Eggs of Hawfinch

Courtesy of Didiere Descouens. CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

UK conservation status 2021.

UK- Red List -priority species due to declines of over 50% in population/distribution over the last fifty years or so.

Europe.-Species of least concern. 

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