|Scientific Name||Fringilla montifringilla|
|Size||5.51 – 6.30 inches|
|Habitat||Temperate, terrestrial scrub forests, forests, agricultural sites|
|Range||The Palearctic region|
Information & Physical Appearance
Scientifically referred to as Fringilla montifringilla, the brambling belongs to the order Passeriformes, family Fringillidae (the finch family), subfamily Fringillinae.
Other common names for this small passerine bird include mountain finch and cock o’ the north.
Sexual dimorphism is especially remarkable with this bird species. Ultimately, while males are characterized by lively colors, females are quite similar to Fringilla coelebs (the Chaffinch), as they are less evident and displaying visibly more modest colors than males.
The breeding male brambling’s head is fully black, with black coloration also covering part of the back, as well as the nape. The robust, conical-shaped beak displays pearly black coloration.
In the chest zone, a spacious belt in bright, vivid orange coloration is easy to notice. This belt wraps the sides and part of the back, while beautifully contrasting with the flight feathers, which are colored in raven black.
When in flight, the narrow orange band that crosses the scapulars becomes clearly visible. The tail of this bird species is black in color, while the abdomen is white.
In winter, the male bramblings’ appearance undergoes a change, with the tinges considerably shading. Thus, white dusting on the head can be noticed. Meanwhile, the orange coloration on the chest weakens, and the bill becomes yellow in color.
On the other hand, female brambling has significantly more humble colors than the male. The females lack the black of the head and also lacks the bright orange coloration that strongly characterizes the male’s livery. Some experts compare the female brambling’s appearance as that of a little, poorly colored male, or a male that has just started to acquire his adult plumage.
Young and sub-adult bramblings alike very much resemble the coloration of a mature female, but even more, faded.
Mature bramblings typically reach a weight of about 20-30 grams, attaining a length of 16 cm. These birds’ wingspan is estimated at approximately 25cm.It is important to note that it is the breeding-plumaged male bramblings to become the most distinctive, thanks to their dark upperparts, blackhead, white belly, and orange breast, as opposed to younger birds and females being less distinct in general, and much more similar to some species of chaffinch.
Even though both sexes of bramblings do share certain similarities with the common chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), such as shape and size, in all plumages alike, bramblings are to differ from chaffinches based on the features listed below.
1. In bramblings, the orange breast contrasts with the white belly. In chaffinches, the underparts are colored more uniformly, being pink or buff.
2. In bramblings, the flanks are dark-spotted. In chaffinches, the flanks are plain.
3. The brambling’s rump is white in color. The chaffinch’s rump is grey-green in color.
4. Chaffinches are “equipped” with white outer tail feathers. In bramblings, the white outer tail feathers are lacking.
5. The scapular feathers of bramblings are orange. The scapular feathers of chaffinches are either grey-brown or grey.
Additionally, the brambling’s bill is yellow in color, while the chaffinch’s bill is colored in dull pinkish. It is only in breeding-plumaged male bramblings that the bill’s color is black, and in breeding-plumaged male chaffinches, the bill is grey.
The oldest recorded brambling is a wild specimen that was estimated at 14.8 years of age.
Ecosystem, Distribution & Habitat
The Brambling covers a very vast range. This small-sized finch typical to the Euro-Siberian zone can be found across the continental Euro-Asian belt, expanding from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.
The brambling’s range has successfully reached in the extreme north, all the way to the very limit of the conifer forests of the taiga, to which this bird species is particularly related, and is believed to have stopped from possibly expanding its range even further when faced with the desolate and barren tundra.
The brambling’s territory in the south reaches its boundary at high altitudes. These high altitudes are lined approximately at the 55th parallel, slightly going southward down to Central Asia, and reaching as far as the Baikal Lake in Siberia and the Central Asian republics’ mountain chains.
The European range of this bird species is practically concentrated only in Russia and the Scandinavian Peninsula. It is in these areas where the entire European continental population of bramblings is condensed.
Because of occupying such a vast territory with large, sufficient availability of suitable ranges to cater to these birds’ needs, the bramblings’ populations are estimated as very consistent. The consistency and stability of the populations should render the brambling safe from danger and harm; however, recent findings point out to a significant decrease that has been recorded in some parts of their usual territory within the last decades.
Despite the possible threats that may be hidden in the future of this bird species, nowadays, the bramblings are still especially widely distributed, featuring large-numbered populations. Only the European population of bramblings consists of about 20 millions of couples, respectively, about 40 million sexually mature individuals.
The brambling is a perfect example of a typical migratory bird, as it is distributed over a range that is unbearable to almost all avian species when the boreal winter kicks in.Migration is extremely important to these species. It is only by migrating how these birds can totally leave the territories during the cold winter, heading to new quarters that are placed at lower altitudes, yet actually on the same continents. Ultimately, bramblings do not need to reach equatorial or tropical areas for wintering purposes.In the breeding season, bramblings are widely spread throughout the forests northern Europe and Asia, with birch and coniferous woodland being favored for breeding. These birds are to winter in north Africa, north India, Northern Pakistan, Japan, China, and southern Europe.
During migration, bramblings are known to regularly stray into Alaska. Sometimes, they may continue straying farther south, possibly reaching the western United States.
During the summer period, bramblings typically prefer to spend their time in the conifer forests of the boreal hemisphere, favoring a cooler climate amidst the dense and leafy forests, where lichens and mosses grow in abundance.
Birchwoods, and especially when close to conifer forests, are also strongly favored.
In the wintertime, bramblings retreat from their high altitude forest range, searching for food in order to survive the bad winter season. Bramblings’ winter quarters include resting cultivated fields, fallow lands, stubbles, abandoned meadows. Also, any essence producing small cones and/or other seed-bearing fruits, such as alder thickets and beech woods, among others, are highly favored.
Food & Diet
Bramblings are omnivorous creatures, feeding on both animal and plant food. The bramblings’ diet majorly consists of seeds during the winter season. Other plant foods include nuts and grains. In the summer, these birds consume different insects.
It is during the breeding season when the densities and nomadism of bramblings are thought to be correlated with the abundance of a particular larva, a geometrid mode, namely Epirrita autumnata, as these moths are an extremely important food source for juveniles and nestlings alike.
There where beech mast is most abundant, the bramblings densities are the highest. In other parts of their range, bramblings will also feed on seeds found in open agricultural fields.
The brambling’s behavior is different in two particular periods. During the nest-building period, the brambling is to become rather solitary, as well as very territorial. However, during migrations, these birds become extremely social, while at times merging in immense flocks.
Bramblings migrate in waves, with migration usually occurring on particular days. It is during specific periods when the migratory flow is to take place, with the passage of flocks following a ceaseless, continuous migratory pattern rather than a consistent pattern.
Being an almost entirely migratory bird, the brambling is to form large flocks during the winter in Europe. At times, thousands, or even millions of birds are to form a single flock. Most commonly, such especially large gatherings take place when beech mast happens to be abundant.Even though bramblings do not really require beech mast during the winter, the winter flocks of bramblings will keep moving until they manage to find it. This curious behavior is believed to be a possible adaptation needed for the avoidance of food competition with chaffinches.
To establish breeding territory, bramblings are known to communicate vocally. Also, when in flight, social chattering is used. In particular, it is males to use songs in order to attract females, and the males’ songs are considered especially joyful to both listen to, as well as to watch the feathery performers.
It is only for one breeding season that a couple of bramblings remains strictly monogamous. Even in the case when the family group is formed during the breeding season, it is to remain united during the winter flocks, too.The brambling’s nest is shaped like a cup. It is well-sized and sufficiently deep. Lichens and moss are used for the construction of the nest. Inside, the nest is neatly covered with a minute and soft material.
The nest is usually positioned at the very spot where two branches of a conifer tree are divided (aka tree fork), several meters above the ground. Simultaneously, the nest is to lean directly in the needles of the conifer.
It is the female’s duty to construct the nest. The male’s duty is to control and guard the territory against any possible competitors or aggression.
In most cases, females are to lay between 4 and 6 eggs. Although rarely, they may lay up to 9 eggs in total. The eggs are colored in creamy bluish. Also, the eggs are finely dotted in reddish.
The brood lasts a pair of weeks on average. When the chicks come to life, they are featherless, helpless, and blind. Therefore, they are kept in the nest, requiring the assistance of both parents in order to survive and develop, for about 14 more days up until they learn how to fly.
However, even once they start flying, the young bramblings keep being followed by their parents for a further period.
Typically, bramblings are to produce only one brood, yet depending on the years, they may also produce a second brood, too. Like all other fringillids, the brambling is to nourish of caterpillars, larvae, and insects during the reproductive period. Despite adding more insects to its diet in the reproductive period, the brambling does not disdain on plant foods.
It is in the winter when the brambling is to fully modify its diet by feeding almost exclusively on seeds, grains, and berries.
The contact call of these birds is described as a sharp, repeated in succession “gnec-gnec” sound. Meanwhile, the territorial song is considered fairly melodious, especially when compared to the territorial songs of other fringillids.
Health Risks, Survival Threats & Conservation
Salmonellosis is most commonly caused by Salmonella typhimurium. Fortunately, based on surveys, the rates of carriage strains by garden birds is rather low. Greenfinches are more likely to fall victim to this disease than bramblings, yet as with most wild birds, particular strains are related to causing high mortality rates.
The most common route for contamination is fecal contamination at feeding sites. The infection is most likely to spread during the winter months because of a large number of birds gathering to feed together at feeding sites. Additionally, cold weather often causes stress, which is related to reducing the immunity of birds.
Seed-eating passerine birds are most susceptible to salmonellosis. Affected birds usually appear weak, lethargic, and fluffed up.
If a salmonellosis outbreak is to occur, large proportions of the flock may die, with mortality rates possibly hitting 50% in some cases.
To prevent salmonellosis, bird feeding and watching enthusiasts should minimize densities at feeding sites, as well as apply adequate hygienic measures to minimize the risk of transmission.
Yersiniosis is a disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia enterocolotica and Yersinia pseudotuberculosis.
Y. pseudotuberculosis is spread by faecal contamination of food. This bacteria can survive in the affected environment for at least several days. Some birds may also carry the deadly organism, although food contamination by rodents is also a significant factor in the possible spread of the organism.
Cases of Yersiniosis are much more likely to occur in the winter months than in any other part of the year.
A wide range of garden birds can be affected by this disease, including dunnock, tits, song thrush, and, nonetheless, finches.
Affected birds may appear lethargic and/or fluffed up, and this typically happens shortly before death. In many cases, though, the disease can be chronic or acute, with the affected birds seeming visibly fine and in good body condition, and then surprisingly dying.
Y. pseudotuberculosis can cause disease in some domesticated species. Nonetheless, it can also cause disease in humans, too. Based on existing research, this particular disease appears to be sporadic, potentially causing localized mortality incidents among different species of garden birds.
Both the control, as well as the prevention of this disease, with the minimization of the risk of transmission to unaffected birds by keeping high hygiene at feeding stations, as well as by avoiding high densities.
Pasteurellosis is most commonly caused by the bacterium Pasteurella multocida.
P. multocida can be isolated from wild birds’ respiratory tracts. It is also carried by rodents.
Occasionally, this disease has led to large-scale mortality among waterfowl in the USA. Outbreaks are believed to be caused by the direct transmission of the bacterium from bird to bird. Outbreaks may be also caused by the contamination of the environments where birds are to gather in high densities.
In garden birds, the disease only tends to occur sporadically, yet a wide range of bird species are susceptible to Pasteurellosis.
The disease can be chronic or acute, with no specific signs showing in the affected bird’s appearance or behavior. However, in the late stages of the disease, the affected birds are likely to appear weak, fluffed up, lethargic, and/or to have their eyes part- or fully-closed at times.
Although this organism can affect various species, it does not pose a significant risk to healthy humans or healthy mammals. Since cases of the disease are only sporadic, it is unlikely to have a huge impact, and in fact, if treated in a timely manner, the disease may respond to antibiotics.
Unfortunately, there is no approach to preventing spontaneous cases of this disease. Prevention can take place by excluding cats from feeding sites as they can transmit the organism to birds, and/or taking adequate measures to minimize any possible risk of cat attack occurring at feeding sites.
Warts, also known as viral papillomas, are caused by the FPV (Fringilla papillomavirus).
Chaffinches are highly susceptible to warts. Bramblings are also susceptible, although to a lesser degree than chaffinches. High proportions of birds may be affected during outbreaks.
This type of disease is easy to notice because of the warty outgrowth that occurs on the bare part of the leg or on the foot of the bird. These outgrowths vary in size, from small nodules to large, deeply-fissured masses.
The affected birds typically appear to be in good health overall, with the exception of the visible outgrowths. As warts grow slowly, the disease may progress for many months to come.
Birds affected with warts do not pose any known health risk to humans or domestic species.
Since the cases of warts are known to appear in clusters, the mere presence of affected birds is believed to present a risk to other birds, making the healthy birds more susceptible to the disease.
The mode of transmission remains unknown, yet it is widely claimed that this disease can spread via the surfaces on which the birds perch or stand upon. Therefore, minimizing crowding, as well as taking proper hygiene measures at feeding sites, may help to reduce the risk of warts.
5. Avian Pox
Different species of birds are affected by avian pox, as there is a wide variety of Avipoxvirus species.
Poxviruses are known to enter through the lining of the bird’s mouth, or through other mucous membranes, as well as through breaks in the skin. These viruses are extremely resistant. They can survive for a very long time, and so it is very easy for birds to acquire infection from getting in contact with the environment, which has been already contaminated by affected birds.
Also, biting parasites, such as mites and mosquitoes, are also known to spread the disease to birds. Simply mechanical spread by flies is possible, too.
Some birds can carry the virus without really showing any clinical signs. It is mainly in the winter months when outbreaks are most likely to occur.
Poxvirus diseases can be recognized in a fairly wide range of bird species including but not limited to a variety of passerines, game birds, pigeons, and raptors.
According to experts, most wild birds are susceptible to at least one of the existing avipoxviruses.
Avian pox is known to occur in three main forms, namely diphtheritic, cutaneous, and septicaemic. The cutaneous and diptheritic forms are characterized by pox lesions on the mucous membranes or on the skin. The septicaemic form is characterized by a fatal, rapid, and systematic spread of infection.
The clinical signs of this disease do greatly depend upon the localized sites affected, as well as upon the severity of the case. Some of the signs may include difficulty in eating/drinking, conjunctivitis, labored breathing. In susceptible species, avian poxviruses can also cause high mortality.
When it comes to possible health risks to humans, poxviruses that affect wild birds are not known to lead to any particular disease in humans. It is suggested that crowding at bird feeding sites might facilitate the spread of avian pox, so bird care enthusiasts should best make sure to minimize the densities of birds that come to visit feeding stations.
Currently, the brambling is notconsidered to be threatened with extinction. This bird species is abundant throughout its vast range.
In the UK, the brambling has a Green status, and therefore, no conservation measures are taking place as of now.
In fact, in Europe alone, accounting for less than ½ of the bramblings’ breeding range, there are over 13 million breeding pairs that are known to occur across the northern parts of the continent, including parts of Germany, Finland, Russia, Scandinavia, Denmark, and Iceland.
Although estimated to show a decreasing trend, the global population of bramblings consists of about 100 – 200 million species, and therefore, the brambling is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Availability – Where to Get a Brambling
Although one cannot get a brambling and take care of it as a pet, it is fully possible to contemplate and admire bramblings in the wild.
Depending on the potential bird watcher’s area of residence, bramblings can be seen in slightly different times of the year. For instance, bramblings can be seen in the UK from mid-September and up until April, although occasionally, bramblings may also choose to stay in the UK up until May before they migrate to West Siberia and Scandinavia to breed.
Brambling bird watch enthusiasts should look for flocks of these feathery fellows in agricultural fields close to woods. In addition to that, bramblings will gladly visit gardens and bird feeders during the winter season.
To help these birds survive the harsh winter season, bird feeders filled with sunflower hearts can be used to attract them, among other seeds, grains, and nuts, and these can be also scattered directly on the snowy ground. Dried mealworms are also favored by bramblings.
1. It was all the way back in 1758 when Linnaeus became the first person to include the brambling in the 10th edition of Systema Naturae. Curiously enough, Linnaeus included this bird species under its current scientific name – Fringilla montifringilla, which has remained unchanged ever since.
The second part of the brambling’s scientific name – “montifringilla” – is derived from Latin, and in particular from montis mountain, fringilla finch, and mons.
The English name for this bird species – “brambling” – is most probably derived from the word “brâma,” which has a common West Germanic origin, and translates as “thorny bush” or “bramble.”
2. Intriguingly enough, male bramblings do actually tend to winter further north than females. This particular, peculiar behavior is also common among some chaffinches. Because of this unusual wintering habits, some winter flocks may consist of birds that are mainly of one and the same sex, especially since young bramblings do tend to prefer wintering further south, as compared with adults.
This behavior is referred to as “differential migration.” Differential migration is believed to be a result of competition for food during the cold wintertime.
3. Similarly to other parts of their range, bramblings do not arrive in the UK until late September. The number of bramblings to arrive does fluctuate greatly from one year to another and is intricately related to the availability of beech mast in these birds’ breeding range. Thus, some years, the British residents may get to see as few as 50 000 bramblings in total, while in other years, the total number of bramblings can hit 2 million!
4. Just recently, during the 2019 winter, Slovenia has witnessed an incredible birding event. The event, starring huge flocks consisting of 5 million bramblings, is considered so rare and valuable, as it only happens only once in a decade.As highlighted by DOPPS, excited calls from passionate bird lovers reporting enormous flocks that seem as if filling Central Slovenia’s skies, and in particular, the Zasavje Valley, were received.
The spectacular gathering of bramblings was described as “true poetry in motion” by Slovenia’s leading ornithologist, Tomaž Mihelič.
Incredibly large flocks of bramblings have been recorded by DOPPS in the winter of 2004/2005 in the Bohor region, as well as in the winter of 2008/2009 around the Trnovski forest; however, these flocks consisted of about two million birds, while the winter of 2018/2019 natural event was marked by numbers of bramblings x2!5. Some breeding male bramblings, and especially when it comes to those with lighter color heads, are known to sometimes get to use female mimicry. By doing so, these males manage to avoid interactions with other males, and ultimately, to increase mating success.
6. According to researchers, it is highly likely that bramblings are sensitive to UV light. Moreover, they may actually use visual cues in the UV spectrum for the purpose of identifying, and then rejecting eggs that nest parasites have laid.
7. Bramblings decorate their nests’ exterior with lichen and moss in order to make the nests less conspicuous.
8. The winter roosts can reach several million birds, scanning large areas for suitable beech mast crops. Thanks to gathering in such impressively large numbers, bramblings are believed to play a very important role at foraging sites, and in particular, they are crucial seed predators.
How to Care for the Brambling
To take the best care for bramblings, one can choose to use bird feeding stations in order to provide supplemental food for these colorful feathery fellows faced with scarce food resources during the winter season.
As a rule of thumb, bramblings begin to gather in large flocks during the autumn and winter. These flocks, often consisting of not only bramblings but also chaffinches, concentrate in areas where conifer seeds or beech most are abundant.
The flocks are to remain in the conifer seeds or birch mast-rich areas up until the point when the food sources do either run out or up until the point the resources are covered with snow. It is then when bramblings will move south, while also becoming frequent visitors of gardens where they can take advantage of the available bird food.
Usually, most gardens are to be visited by a relatively small number of bramblings.
However, it is fully possible to succeed in attracting more of these curious, social birds by providing the food they enjoy the most during the winter. Note that bramblings prefer to feed on the ground. Because of this, it is best to spread peanut granules and/or seed mixes directly on the ground. Alternatively, a low bird table can be utilized.
Additionally, tall trees in and/or around the garden will greatly increase the chances of drawing bramblings in.
To minimize the risk of disease outbreaks, mind that some infections are more likely to spread at feeding sites where large numbers of birds are to gather. Crowding is associated with a high likelihood of the facilitation of potential disease because of foods possibly becoming heavily contaminated with droppings, as well as because of the potential for infected birds transmitting the infection to more susceptible individuals.
1. In this case, a large number of birds, including but not limited to bramblings, are to visit your garden for feeding purposes, make sure to provide food at several different sites. Also, change these sites on a regular basis in order to prevent food from becoming heavily contaminated.
2. It is best to avoid feeding a large number of birds at the same place/same bird table, over long periods, unless if you are 100% able to regularly and thoroughly clean the place/bird table.
3. With suspended feeders, the ground beneath should be regularly cleaned/swept while the brushings/sweepings should be disposed of. Such types of feeders should not include sills since both droppings, and food particles tend to collect in the sills.4. Brush the surfaces on which birds feed every day. This way, you will be able to avoid heavy faecal contamination.
5. After cleaning, feeders/bird tables should be disinfected by allowing these to soak in a 5% sodium hypochlorite solution for a few minutes. Alternatively, safe, readily-available disinfectants can be also used. After disinfection, all surfaces must be rinsed very well.
6. In the case water is provided in birdbaths and/or drinkers, these should be changed daily and cleaned regularly, too.
7. Do not feed birds with moldy foods. These foods may contain toxins that can potentially cause disease in birds. Also, moldy foods can provide a perfect substrate where Salmonella can easily multiple. Only good-quality, fresh foods should be used. If any food is left uneaten, it must be disposed of hygienically.
8. Always use rubber gloves when cleaning the bird feeder/table/birdbath/drinker since a number of infectious diseases affecting birds may also affect humans.
9. Always store bird foods in a safe place where rodents will not possibly contaminate the foods.
10. If you notice signs of illness in the birds that come to feed at your garden, immediately seek professional advice as to be able to confront possible disease outbreaks adequately.
What Does a Brambling Look like?
The brambling is a small-sized bird in the finch family that exhibits impressive sexual dimorphism, and nonetheless, these birds do undergo significant seasonal changes in plumage throughout the year. In females, the black coloration on the head, as well as the bright orange coloration visible in males’ nuptial livery, is lacking, and instead, females’ coloration is more modest.
Where Do Bramblings Nest?
Bramblings nest in forests, where they build their cup-shaped nests in a conifer tree located some meters above the ground.
Where Can You Find a Brambling?
Bramblings can be found near wooded areas within their range, and are especially common in beech woodlands. Also, bramblings are known to visit gardens during the winter, traveling in mixed flocks that include chaffinches.
Where Do Bramblings Breed?
Bramblings are known to breed in Kazakhstan, Iceland, the Russian Federation, Norway, and the United States. Outside the breeding season, these birds are very gregarious, forming large flocks of tens of thousands of birds on migration.
Are Bramblings Endangered?
Bramblings are listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, as despite their population trend decreasing, these birds occur in an extremely large range, with the global population of bramblings consisting of between 120 000 000 – 199 999 999 mature individuals, based on the 2016 assessment.