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Heathwatch: Elusive hawfinches which can crack open olive stones reportedly spotted

PUBLISHED: 10:00 30 January 2020 | UPDATED: 16:17 30 January 2020

Chaffinches are regularly spotted in Hampstead Heath. Picture: The City of London Corporation

Chaffinches are regularly spotted in Hampstead Heath. Picture: The City of London Corporation

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It was fantastic to see one of the UK’s most elusive finches - the hawfinch in Highgate Wood - and hear reports of sightings in the local area including Hampstead Heath.

A female chaffinch sighted in the Heath's south meadow. Picture: The City of London CorporationA female chaffinch sighted in the Heath's south meadow. Picture: The City of London Corporation

As a bird that usually frequents the higher reaches of the tree canopy out of view, it's likely that it was feeding on seeds from one of Highgate Wood's plentiful hornbeam trees.

Compared to many other small songbirds, hawfinches have bills that appear disproportionate to their body size, making these birds seed-busters 'par excellence'.

They have the ability to crack open hard cherry stones, and even olive stones in continental Europe where they are also found, awarding them alternative names like, 'Berry Breaker' or 'Cherry Finch'.

Four finch species are regularly encountered locally.

The UK's most common finch is the chaffinch and is easily identified by two white bars across the wings.

Male birds are more elaborately coloured than the females and produce a distinctive and cheerful song in early spring, as they proclaim their breeding territories.

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Goldfinches are identified by a contrasting broad yellow band against black wings whilst in flight, with a black, white and red pattern on the adult's head.

Their song is also impressive, so much so, that in the nineteenth century hundreds of thousands of these birds were captured and caged, so their delightful chirping would enliven Victorian drawing rooms.

Goldfinches were also performers, often tasked to pull up threads laden with food with their bills whilst looping the slack thread underfoot.

This gave rise to their alternative stage name 'Draw birds'.

Male greenfinches are aptly named.

They have a very distinctive yellow green plumage, unlike any other bird of similar size, and are often encountered flying and feeding together in tight flocks, darting in and out of the undergrowth.

For many years now, greenfinches have successfully bred in the same old philadelphus bush near Kenwood and it is always reassuring to see their return each spring.

But if you can't find a finch in the fields, head over to the bird sanctuary where they are often seen at our bird feeding station.

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