Quick facts

Common name: hawfinch

Scientific name: Coccothraustes coccothraustes

Family: Fringillidae (finches)

Habitat: mature broadleaved and coniferous woodland

Diet: seeds and hard-stoned fruit kernels. Young are fed larvae and regurgitated seeds

Predators: sparrowhawks, goshawks, jays and grey squirrels

Origin: native

What do hawfinches look like?

Male hawfinches have a striking orange head, grey neck, deep brown back, blush-pink chest and black throat. Females are paler in colour, with a sandy-brown head and chest and a chestnut back. Both sexes have the recognisable large build, head and bill that the species is known for.

Juveniles have the same distinctive bill and large head as the adult birds, but their plumage is more muted: they're a speckled yellow-brown in colour with a paler back.

Credit: David Chapman / Alamy Stock Photo

What do hawfinches eat?

The hawfinch diet is mainly made up of seeds, including hornbeam and beech, as well as the kernels of hard-stoned fruit particularly cherry and plum. They'll also take buds, shoots and, occasionally, invertebrates like beetles. Chicks are fed on regurgitated seeds, caterpillars and other larvae. 

Hawfinches mostly feed in high-up branches but can sometimes be spotted foraging beneath trees.

Where do hawfinches live?

The hawfinch is found in localised populations in England, North and South Wales, and southern Scotland, but is absent from Northern Ireland. It prefers mature broadleaved and coniferous woods with species such as hornbeam, beech, ash and oak - especially if there's a river or stream nearby - and can also pop up in parks or gardens.

Did you know?

Their scientific name Coccothraustes coccothraustes is Latin (from Greek) and means 'kernel-crusher'.

Do hawfinches migrate?

Yes, some of them. Hawfinches are partial migrants: many birds - though not all - who breed and spend summer in northern countries will head south for the winter. Some of those migrants spend the colder months in the UK.

Credit: Terry Andrewartha / naturepl.com

How do hawfinches breed?

The male hawfinch scouts out a nest site high up in established woodland, fruit trees or ivy, and starts building the nest using twigs. The female then refines it and fills it with grass and lichen. A single clutch of four to five eggs is laid between early April and late June and incubated for 11 to 13 days. Chicks will fledge after 12 to 14 days.

Did you know?

The hawfinch can crush the equivalent of 1,000 times its own weight with its powerful bill.

Signs and spotting tips

Hawfinches are shy and elusive, spending much of their time high in the canopy, which makes them particularly difficult to spot in summer. During winter, when their numbers are boosted by migrants, they can be seen feeding on the ground - often in pairs or small groups - as well as in the leafless treetops.

Hawfinch song

Listen out for a sharp 'tik' sound, especially when they're in flight. It sounds like that used by robins.

Audio: Simon Busuttil / xeno-canto.org

Credit: John Bridges / WTML

Threats and conservation

Hawfinches are in decline in the UK and are a red-listed species. There has been a steady fall in the number of breeding pairs since the early 1980s, with the current estimate at 500 to 1,000 pairs. There are a number of reasons for this decline, not least the loss of mature woodland - their preferred habitat.