Female brambling

Female brambling ©Margaret Holland

Male brambling

Male brambling © Amy Lewis

Brambling

Scientific name: Fringilla montifringilla
These winter visitors are close relatives of the chaffinch and can often be found in the same flocks, where their white rump and nasal calls give them away.

Species information

Statistics

Length: 14cm
Wingspan: 26cm
Weight: 24g

Conservation status

Common. Classified in the UK as Green under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

When to see

September to April

About

Bramblings are brightly marked finches, with a beautiful rusty orange tint on the breast and shoulder, giving them a more colourful look than the browner hued female chaffinch.

They spend the summer nesting in the forests of northern Europe and Asia, though pairs occasionally nest further south, including in northern Britain. At the end of the breeding season, they move south in huge flocks, looking for seeds and particularly beech mast to feed on. If there is a shortage of beech mast in southern Scandinavia, or if the snow is too heavy for birds to feed, huge numbers of brambling can move into the UK and central Europe for winter.

Bramblings are usually found in flocks, regularly joining up with chaffinches and other finches in places where plenty of food can be found. They're often found in woodlands, hedgerows and stubble fields, and will sometimes visit garden bird feeders.

How to identify

Bramblings are the same size and shape as a chaffinch, but have plenty of key differences to help tell them apart. In their summer breeding plumage, males have a glossy black head and back, but in winter the black feathers are hidden by pale fringes, giving the head and back a more mottled black and brown appearance. Females have a brown and grey head, with two distinct black lines running across the top of the head and down the nape.

In both sexes, the breast and shoulder area is a rich, rusty orange colour (brighter and more extensive in males), compared to the reddish breast of a male chaffinch and the buff-grey of a female chaffinch. In winter, both male and female bramblings have a yellow bill, whereas chaffinches have a grey bill.

In flight, bramblings are easily spotted amongst a flock of chaffinches by their bright white rump. They also have rusty buff-coloured markings on their wings (white in chaffinch) and an almost all black tail (white tail sides in a chaffinch). Their nasal 'che-eep' call, with a notable rise in pitch, often gives away their presence.

Distribution

Widespread across the UK in winter.

Did you know?

When conditions are right, with heavy snowfall in much of their range and an abundance of beech mast further south, bramblings can gather in staggering numbers. In January 2019, a mega flock of around five million bramblings was recorded in Slovenia.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts work closely with farmers and landowners to ensure that our wildlife is protected and to promote wildlife-friendly practices. By working together, we can create Living Landscapes: networks of habitats stretching across town and country that allow wildlife to move about freely and people to enjoy the benefits of nature. Support this greener vision for the future by joining your local Wildlife Trust.