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A passage migrant and an occasional winter visitor to Dorset in extreme weather


Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

Brambling: in from the cold

Post date: Wednesday, 6 April, 2016 - 00:00

Extreme cold weather in winter can mean the normal order of bird life in our countryside can get turned on its head and almost anything can happen. It is possible to find unexpected species almost anywhere including gardens of course. So it was a while back when, in a particularly cold snap, this little chap turned up in our garden, a lone brambling (Fringilla montifringilla).

The brambling is very closely related to the chaffinch and is very common in the conifer forests of Scandinavia where chaffinches do not breed. The brambling is believed to have successfully bred in Scotland in the past but they are very much a winter visitor to here in Dorset. Although related to, and do resemble in appearance the chaffinch they are quite distinctive and easily told apart. 

Bramblings are a bit like waxwings in that some years we get virtually none at all and then in other years there are masses of them. They do seem to be more common when the weather is bad further north and food gets in short supply.

This one I photographed in our garden looks a bit bewildered and is not quite sure what way to go next! He didn't stay long.


Brambling in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Post date: Tuesday, 5 March, 2019 - 18:14

The brambling is one of those species like waxwing, crossbill, hawfinch and so on that occur in Dorset in most winters but usually in small numbers and then occasionally there is an irruption and large flocks arrive. Closely related to chaffinches they often join chaffinch flocks when here and if you encounter a large flock of chaffinches then it worth looking to see if there are brambling amongst them. A northern European breeding species they migrate south in autumn with many going into southern and western Europe for the colder months of the year. 

There have only been about 60 reports of brambling in each of the years since the Nature of Dorset database of records started in January 2017 and the bulk of these reports come during weeks 42 to 46 in late October and early November which is a reflection of the southerly movement of birds in autumn passing through Dorset. There are then a small and variable number of records throughout the winter until week 15 around the end of April. There is no evidence of spring migration back through Dorset northwards so they must go by a different route!

They can be seen almost anywhere in Dorset, in years of irruptions they can quite readily appear in gardens at feeding stations. Most records, though, come from Portland, Arne and the Bridport area where migrating birds can be seen feeding prior to making the trip across the Channel to more southerly climes.

If you need brambling for your Dorset list you have to keep watch during the autumn for signs the migration season is under way and then be ready to act if a flock is reported somewhere.


The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Sites List Distribution Map Some Charts Some Photographs Original Tweets Relatives Guidance Notes
Common Name Brambling
Scientific Name Fringilla montifringilla
Status Scarce
Interest Level
Species Family Finches
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Preferred Environment
  • Farmland
  • Hedgerows
  • Gardens and parks
  • Woodland - broadleaf
  • Downland and scrub
Look for A bird that looks a bit like a chaffinch but is obviously not!
Additional Identification Notes
  • Its colouration can not really be confused with any species other than the much our native chaffinch
  • Closely related to the chaffinch small numbers sometimes join chaffinch flocks in winter for protection 
  • Seen mainly in Autumn on migration but in some years arriving in considerable numbers during he winter months    
Similar Species