Return of the mystery bird

This post is related to: Guest of Honor (additional hawfinch photos)


Despite ranging extensively across Eurasia and north Africa and current population estimates reaching up to 5 millions for Europe alone, hawfinches (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) are commonly known to be shy, elusive and unobtrusive birds—they are sometimes called “mystery birds” for that reason. None of these qualities seem to apply to the handsome adult male that has been daily visiting my window feeder for over two weeks now. Each time the finch spends lengthy moments “chewing” on sunflower seeds or sipping on water, apparently pleased and relaxed despite my proximity a meter away and the constant clicking of my DSLR’s shutter.

Male hawfinch feeding chick

Hawfinch male feeding his young with chewed up sunflower seeds in front on my window. Credit: Yalakom

In fact, he soon started bringing his progeny along: two chicks that he feeds on a leafless tree, in front of my window, with seeds from the feeder previously chewed up with his massive silver beak.

The chicks and the parent are both very quiet. The former do not conspicuously beg for food like great tits or blue tits, but instead patiently wait in silence for the parent to return without moving around much.

The young are rapidly becoming independent and one of them started regularly popping up on its own, spending up to 20 min at the feeder eating, drinking, snoozing and attentively scanning the surroundings from the third-floor window ledge. It is not the least scared of me and stays put even when I open the window pane, though it looks at me with surprise.

There is something truly reptilian in the demeanour of these dazzling birds; their intense pink eyes circled by coal-black patches have little to envy a raptor’s eye; and their body seems covered with hair rather than feathers which gives their plumage a unique glossy appearance. Their massive beak appears equally efficient for foraging and deterring other birds—at least some of them. This powerful tool easily crushes seeds and fruit pits, including cherries and plums—their jaws can exert a force equivalent to a 45 kg (100 lb) load.

The chicks can’t seem to fully realize the power of their bill and appearance yet. Some birds clearly won’t share the feeder with a hawfinch, even a young one. I have seen a blackbird female acting strange around the chick (see photographs below), repeatedly nagging at it probably hoping it would leave. The chick looked stupefied but remained and the blackbird quickly gave up.

Great tits, even adults, stay away when the adult male eats at the feeder, but the young ones that were born this spring are hungry and curious enough to have a go with the hawfinch chick. I haven’t seen them fully succeed yet even though the hawfinch chick is not aggressive towards them—merely as dazed as they are by this first-time encounter!

However, the young hawfinch is certainly scared of crows and Eurasian jays: the chick looks distressed when hearing both species and leaves the feeder whenever they are too close. Could it be that jays prey on hawfinch nestlings or fledglings like they do with great tits or blue tits?

So far, I have spotted three other hawfinch couples in different areas, generally from far away. There are probably many more of them, but they do keep on high tree branches which makes them uneasy to spot. We can only hope they visit our bird feeders, that’s probably as good as it gets.

Location: Bayreuth, Germany

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5 thoughts on “Return of the mystery bird

  1. Thanks! They are so special, it was a first for me, but really, what a blast I had observing them 🙂 Their bill is spectacular and the silky appearance of their plumage gorgeous. I’m afraid you don’t have them in North America, you’ll have to come to Europe!

    Liked by 1 person

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