The Bullfinch is a lovely little bird and has sadly declined in the British countryside. When I was a girl we saw them every spring, nesting in the plum tree in our neighbour’s garden.
But why it called the Bullfinch? Most explanations I have read refer to its stocky neck which is supposedly reminiscent of a bull. This explanation is also sometimes bolstered by reference to the French name for the bird ‘Bouvreuil’ which is apparently related to ‘bouvier’ or cowherd.
Since living in Norfolk, however, a much simpler explanation has occurred to me. The association of the Bullfinch with plum trees is well known. Their habit of eating the buds meant that they were seen as pests by commercial fruit growers and, up until 1996, many thousands were legally trapped and killed every year. The Bullfinches were said to be particularly fond of the buds of the ‘Golden Gage’ plum. Now in Norfolk the hedgerows are full of the little, yellow wild plums known as ‘Bullace’. In autumn the dropped fruits often cover the roadsides, though you can pick them to make excellent wine.
So, is it a Bullfinch or a Bullace Finch?