A Rare Visitor


Full Screen Image – Hawfinch, Glen Convinth, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

The Hawfinch is the largest of the finches found in Scotland and the rest of Britain. Size though does not mean that it is seen very often, a combination of being rare, unfortunately in significant decline and having a rather shy temperament which has even been described as ‘self-effacing’, all mean that glimpses of them are few and far between and I was very lucky to see this one in an area of Highland Scotland where they are almost never recorded, the last sighting was in 2010 and that was tens of miles South on the other side of Loch Ness. There are local small breeding populations known much further South in Scotland at Scone Palace near Perth.

This individual is almost certainly a migrant on the move and there have been several sightings of these last week in Scotland, including on the islands, but none on the mainland in this region till now. The Gaelic name for the Hawfinch is the Gobach which translates as ‘Beaky’ which, although not exactly romantic or poetic, is highly appropriate not just because the Hawfinch beak is as large as it is but also because studies have shown it can exert huge pressures in excess of 95 lbs (48 kg) in order to crack things like cherry stones which it feeds on. In Yorkshire, the bird is actually known as the Cherry Finch because of its fondness for the fruit but further South in Europe it is also known for its selection of Olives, the stones of which require over 160 lbs pressure to break them as fast as the Hawfinch is on record as doing with apparent ease. Yes, the muscles for the beak are very well developed. Put simply, the Hawfinch can deliver a crushing pressure with its beak well over 1000 times its own weight. If human beings could do that, we would be looking at forces measured in tens of tons. The noise of the stones breaking can sometimes be the way of finding Hawfinches when they are feeding but it was not the case for my encounter. Cherries are a bit thin on the ground here and olives – don’t even ask. I was just lucky enough to see a bird that was not one of the usual I see and then, after a moment’s doubt, realise what I had found.

Thanks to Susan Haysom at Scottish Natural Heritage and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) for their information on the status of the Hawfinch and recorded sightings.

If anyone else is fortunate enough to spot a Hawfinch in North Scotland the BTO would be very interested to have the records and these can be reported through their website

British Trust for Ornithology


Gallery – Scotland’s Birds

Gallery – Glen Convinth


Hawfinch – Coccothraustes coccothraustes