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Hawfinch invasion as rare birds flock to Britain in thousands after crop failures in Europe

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 01/12/2017 By Sarah Knapton, Science Editor
a small bird perched on a rock © Provided by The Telegraph

Flocks of rare hawfinches have begun arriving in Britain in huge numbers following crop failures in Germany and Romania.

The little birds largely bypass the UK in the winter, staying in central Europe, but poor harvests on the continent has sent them further north looking for autumn fruits and nuts.

Nature experts are urging people to get outside this weekend to glimpse the elusive birds that are renowned for their parrot like bills, and which are flocking in groups of 100 or more, which is around 12 times the national average.

a bird that is standing in the grass © Provided by The Telegraph

The National Trust has reported there hawfinches at Fyne Court, Somerset - where hawfinches have not been seen for seven years - as well Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire, Sizergh, in Cumbria and the Slindon Estate in West Sussex.

The birds have also been spotted at Sissinghurst in Kent, Felbrigg in Norfolk, Hatfield Forest in Essex, Basildon Park in Berks, Steps Hill at Ashridge in Bucks and Wimpole in Cambs.

Nature specialist Matthew Oates, says, “There has been an unprecedented influx of these shy and secretive birds to our shores.

“The keenest of birders may only spot a handful of hawfinches during years of birdwatching but right now, everyone has a chance.

“The best places to look are around hornbeam trees and yew groves that still bear their autumn fruit. If you’re at a loose end what to do this weekend, get outside to try and catch a sight of these enigmatic characters – it may be quite a while until such an opportunity comes round again.”

The birds are known for the parrot-like bills Credit: The National Trust 

The remarkable invasion of the bird – which is the UK’s largest, rarest and most elusive finch - has been attributed to poor seed crop yields in other parts of Europe, notably in the bird’s main winter feeding grounds of Germany and Romania.

In contrast, in Britain there has been an explosion of berries, nuts and seeds, after fine spring weather earlier in the year.

Records logged by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) suggest that several thousand hawfinches have arrived in recent weeks, where only a few hundred are normally spotted.

Experts said this year’s influx is unparalleled, with twitchers recording the same number of sightings as it would usually take a lifetime to accrue.

It is thought there are fewer than 1000 pairs of hawfinch native to the UK after dramatic declines in recent years, though the resident population is augmented by winter migrants from the continent. 

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