Sizergh's elusive Hawfinches

Hawfinch on tree branch at Sizergh Castle © Rob Pockilington

Hawfinch on tree branch at Sizergh Castle

Sizergh Castle in Cumbria is one of the best places to see handsome hawfinches up close, and now a new project on the estate has begun to find out more about these elusive birds.

Hawfinches are large, charismatic finches with a bill powerful enough to crack cherry stones. At Sizergh however, these handsome birds prefer fallen seed from hornbeam trees. They are most regularly seen in the visitor car park area between February and April, with early mornings in March the most rewarding.

In his seven years at Sizergh, Ranger Rob Pocklington has become very tuned in to these special birds, as Rob puts it: 'If there's a hawfinch around I'll see or hear it!' Rob has shared his enthusiasm and knowledge by organising public 'Hawfinch Watches', where visitors get the chance to see this elusive species close-up and with the benefit of an expert commentary. They have proved immensely popular despite the quite early start required.

Hawfinches are a priority species, with a recent national survey revealing an estimated 73 percent contraction and a population decline from 2,500-3,000 pairs to 500-1,000 pairs over the last 20 years.

New research project

Although regularly encountered on the estate year-round, and presumed to breed here, little is known about how the finches use the estate, or how successful they are when breeding. In order to learn more a research project has begun in collaboration with University of Lancaster, RSPB and Natural England.

Using Sizergh as the main study area, we'll be catching and fitting the finches with tiny radio trackers and colour rings which will enable us to record basic data on individual birds. Ultimately we hope this information will help us to manage the woodland on the estate which could perhaps be modified to favour this handsome woodland specialist.

Have you spotted one?

Help us with our project, get in touch.