Rare hawfinch colony feasts on seeds at Yorkshire arboretum

A hawfinch photographed by Robert E Fuller.
A hawfinch photographed by Robert E Fuller.
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These winged migrants usually prefer more southerly spots when they venture from the continent but a colony of 100 rare hawfinches have taken up residence in North Yorkshire.

An estimated 50,000 of the species are believed to have landed on UK shores this season, the largest ever influx of finches from Eastern Europe.

Wildlife artist Robert at his purpose-built hawfinch hide at the Yorkshire Arboretum.

Wildlife artist Robert at his purpose-built hawfinch hide at the Yorkshire Arboretum.

A small population of about 1,500 are known to reside in the UK and when their European counterparts migrate to the UK it is usually only to the south where hornbeam trees, which produce seeds that hawfinches like to eat, are more likely to grow.

However, a colony has been observed feeding on seeds from a hornbeam tree at the Yorkshire Arboretum in the grounds of Castle Howard.

Dr John Grimshaw, director of the botanical tree garden, said: “It’s been great to have the hawfinches at the arboretum. It’s great to see the trees we have planted is helping such a scarce species.”

The 120-acre arboretum was due to reopen to the public on February 10 but due to interest in the hawfinches, staff are “pulling out all the stops” to open on Thursday this week instead.

Exclusive access to the arboretum was granted to Yorkshire wildlife artist and Country Week columnist Robert E Fuller while it was closed to the public for winter. He built a hide at the site with a 12ft infinity pool so that he could photograph the birds up close and capture their reflections as they drank.

He said: “Hawfinches are really attractive birds. They have a graphic, eye-catching bill and a plumage that is just the colour of autumn, making them perfect subjects to paint. They are also really interesting birds. They seem to be able to eat almost any seed or stone, even the stones inside poisonous berries like yew.”

An exhibition of Mr Fuller’s photographs, a video and a painting of a hawfinch opens in the arboretum’s visitor centre, as well as at his own gallery in Thixendale, between February 10 and March 17.