Hawfinch Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Hawfinch
Scientific Name:Coccothraustes coccothraustes
Length:About 18 cm
Clutch Size:2 to 7 eggs
Habitat:Mixed Woodlands
Country of Origin:United Kingdom

Physical Description

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The hawfinch is considered as the largest finch in the United Kingdom. In fact, it weighs more than twice as much as the more common Chaffinch. This species is known for its enormous bill that is powerful enough to crush stone, a cherry stone, for example. They use their bill in cracking open seeds from trees. Despite their actual size, they are still elusive, particularly during their summer nesting season.

They have an overall length averaging at 18 cm, a wingspan of 31 cm, and a weight averaging 58 g. They have a distinct, top-heavy silhouette that is caused by their thick, triangular bill and large head. They are mainly rusty and orange-brown in color, more concentrated on the tail and head, with a dark brown-black, as well as a black patch surrounding the base of the bill.

On their head, the nape, crown, and cheeks are described as being buff. The top of their head is darker, while the sides and rear parts of the neck are pale greys in color. The upper parts of this bird are dark brown in color, with their underparts orange. Their legs are brown and pink. Both males and females are similar in appearance, though females are duller in color. They also have a slaty-grey patch on their secondary feathers. Their black bib is also a bit smaller than males.

Juveniles, on the other hand, feature a pale greenish-yellow breast, while their parts are mottled black. They do not have the black bib just yet. Their bills are a pale yellowish. Young males feature some black at the base of their bill, while their underparts are somewhat darker than in adults.


The hawfinch species was first described and illustrated by Conrad Gesner in 1555, a Swiss naturalist in his Historiae animalium. In his record, he used the Latin name Coccothraustes, which came from the Greek word Kokkos, which is a kernel or seed, while thrauo means to shatter or break.

In 1758, this species was included by Carl Linnaeus in the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae, under a binomial name, Loxia coccothraustes. In 1760, the hawfinch was transferred by French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson to a separate genus, the Coccothraustes. The English term ‘Hawfinch’ was first introduced in 1676 by ornithologist Francis Willughby. Haws refers to the red berries under the common hawthorn Crataegus monogyna.

According to a number of molecular phylogenetic studies, the hawfinch is related closely to other grosbeak species in the Hesperiphona, Eophona, and Mycerobas genera. Finches with huge beaks under the Rhodospiza and Rhynchostruthus genera are not closely associated with this species. Their similarity in bill features comes as a result of convergence caused by similar behavior in feeding.

Habitat and Nesting

The hawfinch species is a member of the finch family. They breed across Europe, and in the temperate regions of Asia. They are also found quite rarely in Alaska. However, in most regions of the United Kingdom, they are typically restricted to England and are primarily present in the Home Counties, the Southeast, from Hampshire to Kent, and the Western Borders.

These birds prefer mixed woodlands, building their nests in a tree or bush. In these locations, they have easy access to open air. Male birds work by layering a lot of grass, dry twigs, and lichen in order to build their nest. After about two weeks, the female birds then take over. During autumn and winter, these birds look for food-providing forests, particularly those with plum and cherry trees. As with regards to height, the hawfinch can be found in any altitude that is only limited by the trees’ sizes.

Voice and Call

These birds are known to produce muffled and quiet, unobtrusive sound. They make a call that is similar to that which is produced by robins, sounding like “tic-tic,” and a thin “seep.” As they move around branches, they utter a soft and short “sib.” As they fly in between two trees, they utter a “tsik.” When threatened, they give an anxious sound, like that of a “kiou.” In-flight, they can easily be heard with a distinct and loud metallic “tsicc.” The voice and song is a quiet sound of the whistle, along with a rather guttural call note, without any musical notes.

Feeding and Diet

Hawfinches primarily feed on hard seeds coming from trees, along with fruit seeds that can easily be broken using their tough beak. They can also break through seeds of cherries, plums, as well as olive seeds. They also have the tendency, even preferring, to eat in groups, particularly in winter. They are also commonly observed to eat berries, sprouts, pine seeds, as well as caterpillars, occasionally.


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Hawfinches spend a lot of time hiding the forest canopy. Their song is observed to be exceptionally quiet and weak. They feed mainly on seeds that they take on the ground, or directly from trees. They are seen to catch insects in summer, so as to feed their young.

These birds are secretive and shy and are quite difficult to see. They are often seen perched high in the trees, or hidden among the foliage. When disturbed, these birds usually fly up to the treetops, descending slowly, from one branch to another, observing their surroundings carefully.

When the breeding season starts, males sing in order to attract females. If they are accepted by the female, the male starts to show off by fluffing their head and breast feathers. They also bow with dropped wings, along with the fanned tail. The movement of wing dropping allows the male birds to expose their deep iridescent blue flight feathers.

The female then moves toward the male, looking at him with curiosity and interest. With her sleek body feathers, the female bird laterally hops or takes off, followed by the male who displays deep bowing, displaying their grey nape while pointing their bill downwards to its legs or belly.

The male then approaches the female with their wings opened broadly. She holds the bill towards him, with the birds ending their display in that similar position, bill to bill, similar to the act of kissing. Males also show courtship feeding, with flight displays above the female, chasing her around and among the trees.

Hawfinches are also observed to gather in flocks right after the breeding season while feeding on the ground. These birds also display undulating flights at a good height. They have white patches that are very conspicuous while flying. Their flight displays also include “moth-like” actions with short fluttering wings above the female.

Breeding and Reproduction

Hawfinches breed first when they reach one year old. They are described as being monogamous, with a consistent pair that usually persists from a year to the next. The formation of pairs usually happens before the breakup of the flocks. The breeding date is highly dependent on the spring temperature and is often earlier in southwest Europe, and much later in the northeast. In Britain, most of the clutches are usually laid between the latter part of April and late June.

The breeding season among Hawfinches occurs in late April. They may choose to nest in loose colonies, which include about six pairs of birds, at times up to 20. They create a nest that cup-shaped, typically constructed using grasses, twigs, and lichens. They are typically placed in a fork in orchards, deciduous trees, parks or woodlands.

The females lay up to 2 to 7 greenish or pale blue eggs with some black marks. The incubation period typically lasts for about 9 to 14 days by the female parent. The young are fed by both parents with seeds and regurgitating insects. Ten to fourteen days right after hatching, the young birds start to fledge. These birds are known to produce one or two broods every season.

When it comes to courtship, hawfinches engage in quite an elaborate series of courtship movements. The two birds usually stand apart facing each other, reaching out so that their bills touch. The male also displays actions in front of the female by standing erect, puffing out the feathers on their head, chest, and neck, while allowing their wings to droop forward. The male continues to make a deep bow, while lowering a wing, moving it in a semi-circular arc which reveals his wing bars, along with its modified wing feathers.

The pairs that are breeding are typically solitary, though they also breed occasionally in loose communities. The nest is located normally high in a tree, typically on a horizontal branch. The male selects the site of the nest, building a layer using dry twigs. After a number of days, the female then takes over. The nest may not be tidy to look at, as it is formed using a bulky twig base, along with a shallow cup that is lined with grasses, roots, and lichens.

The eggs are typically laid early in the morning, at everyday intervals. There is a variable in the shape and color of the eggs. They usually have pale grey and purple-brown squiggles on their background, which can be grey-green, buff, or pale bluish. The eggs are incubated by the female parent, while the nestlings are fed by both parents. They regurgitate the seeds while also bringing mouthfuls of caterpillars. Initially, the male bird typically passes the food to the female who, in turn, feeds the chicks. As the chicks start to grow bigger, both parents feed them directly.

How to Care for a Hawfinch

When caring for hawfinches, it is important to mimic their shelter and food of these birds in the wild. While they can be fed actual fruits and berries, there are also commercially available feeds for these birds. Among these include Premium Suet Balls, which contain quality beef suet, combined with peanuts, wheat, and dried mealworms. Other options include the Ultiva Gold Seed Mix, Ultiva Everyday Seed Mix, Ultiva, and the High Protein Insect Mix.

Where to Find Hawfinches

Hawfinches are quite challenging to observe, which is why estimations of their population are not easy to do. There is an observation, however, that the population of this species has declined in recent years. Among the reasons for such a population decline include habitat changes and disturbances.

These birds are now commonly restricted in England and have seen a decline in many areas. Regions of western England, particularly near the Welsh Borders, the Southeast from Hampshire to Kent and the Home Counties remain as areas where you can likely find them. They may also be found at RSPB nature reserves, such as the Blean Woods, Gloucestershire, and Nagshead. They may perch high in the trees, but may also feed on the ground, most commonly among the foliage.

FAQ Section

How big is a Hawfinch?

The Hawfinch is considered as the largest bird in the UK. It has impressive proportions, with a height of 18cm, with an enormous conical bill, an amazing head, and a thick neck.

How many eggs do Hawfinches usually lay?

Female hawfinches lay 2 to 7 greenish or pale blue eggs with some black markings.

What sound does a hawfinch make?

The call that they make is a hard chick. The song that they make is mumbled and quiet.

Where can hawfinches be found?

These birds thrive in mixed or deciduous woodland, including parklands, especially those that have large trees. Trees like hornbeam are often favored for breeding within this species.

How does a hawfinch look like?

A hawfinch is 16.5 to 18 cm in length. It is a bulky bull-headed bird, appearing really short-tailed in flight. The head of this bird is orange-brown in color with a bib and black eyestripe. They also feature a massive bill, which is often black in summer, yet paler in winter. They have dark brown upperparts and orange underparts.

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