top of page
  • Writer's pictureilyabirding

Finches, Buntings and New World Warblers

Updated: Jan 7

Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs

This species is a very common and widespread breeder on the Lizard Peninsula, and there is little to suggest a marked change in status over the last few centuries other than potentially, it being adversely affected in winter by changes in agricultural practices. Large numbers occur as migrants in late October and November, when it becomes particularly abundant on the Lizard. It is also likely that breeding birds are supplemented by winter visitors.

Chaffinch, Caerthilliean. Ilya Maclean

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Chaffinch on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.

Brambling Fringilla montifringilla

It is difficult to determine whether there has been a marked change in in status of this species. Certainly the number of records has increased since 1949, though 19th century authors do remark on occasional influx years - e.g. the winters of 1852/3, 154/5 and 1870/1.

It is currently best described as a scarce migrant and winter visitor, most commonly recorded as flyovers in late Oct and early Nov. The earliest date is 7th Oct (1992). Spring records are unusual, but include birds seen on 7th Apr 1982, 26th Mar 2002, 9th Apr 2000, 14th Apr 2021 and an extraordinary count of c. 60 at Trevenen near Helston on 3rd May 1978 with a single also at Loe Bar on 5th May 1978. Trevenen also held a large flock in 1979 with 150 recorded there on 29th Jan (declining to 60 by 24th Mar).

A Brambling feeding in Joe's Garden in 2022. Joe Jones.

Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes [BoCC5: Red]

Scarce migrant and winter visitor. The first record is of one at Mannacan on 7th Dec 1949. Singles at Helston Sewerage works on 5th-6th Dec 1978 with two flying over there on 8th Dec 1978. Also singles at Lizard Village on 5th Apr 2001, south Lizard area on 12th & 15th Oct 2005 (2 on the 16th), 4th Nov 2008, 10th Oct 2010, at Church Cove on 1st May 2011 and over Little Treliever on 6th Nov 2016.

A significant influx occurred in October 2017, resulting in numerous records including singles over the Lizard Village area on the 12th & 14th, 2 on the 15th, 1 on the 20th, 4 on the 26th and in Nov, one on the 1st. Approximately 50 were recorded at or over Little Treliever between 10th Oct and 19th Nov 2017. Several also recorded elsewhere in 2017: 3 over Porthleven on 26th Oct and one over Mullion on 1st Nov. Records continued into 2018 with a single at Cross Lanes on 3rd Jan.

Subsequently records are of flyovers at Little Treliever on 14th Oct 2020 and 31st Oct 2021 and one at Cross Common on 17th May 2023.

Pine Grosbeak Pinicola enucleator

A male watched in good light for about 20 mins at Mellangoose near Helston on 25th April 1962 has never officially been accepted.

Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula [BoCC5: Amber]

Historically Bullfinches were regarded as a pest owing to their habits of destroying fruit crops, particularly gooseberries, and in 1556 an Act of Parliament proffered one penny for each bullfinch "that devoureth the blowth of Fruite". Even in Cornwall, where fruit growing was a significant industry, they were regarded as a sufficient nuisance for Churchwardens Accounts to remark on the killing of over 150 birds on several occasions in the late 1600s, and in the 1800s they were still sufficiently abundant that records of more than 30 from a single garden feature in historic literature.

While not nearly as abundant as in the 1800s, they are nevertheless are a fairly common breeding resident currently, with numbers probably supplemented by migrants in autumn.

Male Bullfinch, Helford, 23rd Dec 2021. Ilya Maclean

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Bullfinch on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.

Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus

Rare, with just 10 or possibly 11 records (all of singles):

1992: 28th May a female at Mullion (A Pay).

1995: 9th Sep a juvenile at Pistol Meadows (B Cave).

2005: 26th Sep a juvenile at Lizard Point (A Pay).

2006: 18th Oct a juvenile at Lizard Village (A Pay).

2008: 18th Oct a juvenile at Church Cove

2010: 18th-19th Oct a juvenile at Church Cove.

2011: 6th-8th Jun a singing male at Lizard Point (T Blunden).

2014: 6th Jun a singing male in Lizard Village (T Blunden).

2015: 10th-13th May a singing male at Housel (B Cave, T Blunden).

2016: 7th Jun a singing male in the Rizza Valley

Also a probable at Church Cove on 20th Jun 2011.

Common Rosefinch, Tony Blunden

Greenfinch Chloris chloris [BoCC5: Red]

In Cornwall, there was little evidence of a marked change in status between the 1800s and mind 1980s, but the species then underwent a slight increase in abundance to the late 1990s. In 2000 a widespread and severe outbreak of the respiratory disease trichomonosis devastated the population resulting in a decrease of around 70% since this time. The trend on the Lizard probably mirrors that for Cornwall as a whole. Breeding birds are supplemented by migrants, particularly in the autumn.

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Greenfinch on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.

Greenfinch, Lizard Village, 26th Dec 2023. Ilya Maclean

Twite Linaria flavirostris [BoCC5: Red]

Rare with just one record: a bird at Helston on 24th Jan 1982.

Linnet Linaria cannabina [BoCC5: Red]

In Cornwall as a whole, Linnets were noted by Carew (1602) and all subsequent authors up until the mid 20th century have remarked on their abundance. Since the 1960s, however, Linnets have gone a steady decline owing to agricultural practices, a trend that is probably mirrored on the Lizard. However, it remains a common breeding resident, summer visitor and fairly common migrant.

Breeding plumage Linnet, 10th May 2016. Tony Blunden.

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Linnet on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.

Common Redpoll Acanthis flammea

Rare. One shot Carwythnick near Constantine pre-1866. Singles at Bass Point on 21st Apr 2002 and Windmill Farm on 6th Dec 2008. Also one reported from the Lizard Area on 30th Jan 2007.

Lesser Redpoll Acanthis cabaret [BoCC5: Red]

Records of this species increased substantially in Cornwall during the 20th century, no doubt in part owing to increased observer coverage, but undoubtedly because the UK breeding population increased substantially.

On the Lizard, it is currently a scarce spring and fairly common autumn migrant. Most are recorded as overhead migrants, so it is difficult to rule out Common Redpoll. It is a surprisingly late addition to the Lizard list, the first being one at Loe Pool in Oct 1972.

Crossbill Loxia curvirostra

The first formal documentation of this species in Cornwall comes from Richard Carew 1602 Survey of Cornwall, who remarks “Not long sithence, there came a flock of Birds into Cornwall, about Harvest season, in bigness not much exceeding a Sparrow, which made a foule spoyle of the Apples. Their bills were thwarted crosswise at the end, and with these they would cut an Apple in two at one snap, eating only the kernels". Carew was referring to the great Crossbill invasion of 1593. No specific mention is made of birds on the Lizard however.

Period influxes into Britain since this time are well-documented - for example between 1835 and 1839, with Rodd noting numerous birds in the Penzance area from August 1838 onwards. However, the first documented record for the Lizard occurred during the invasion of 1927 when several flew in from the sea on 4th Jul. It is currently a scarce summer and autumn migrant. Most summer records are from the Croft Pascoe area, whereas elsewhere it occurs more commonly in autumn. There are also occasional spring records, including birds recorded in February at Croft Pascoe, implying possible local breeding.

Crossbill, Croft Pascoe, 22nd May 2022. Ilya Maclean

Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis

Early writers remark on the presence of this species in west Cornwall, but give little specific information on its status, though Clark (1906) thought it was probably declining owing to its popularity as a cage bird. Since 1995, in the UK has a whole, this species has increased, owing in part to increased garden feeding and in part due to reduced competition form Greenfinches. In Cornwall, the population appears to have fluctuated recently, with rather poor years in 2005-06 winter. On the Lizard, it is a common breeding resident, summer visitor and migrant and the trend probably broadly mirrors that for Cornwall as a whole.

Goldfinch, Caerthillian. Ilya Maclean

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Goldfinch on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.

Serin Serinus serinus [BoCC5: Extinct]

Formerly rare, now scarce, with records in both spring and autumn. The first record is of three at Porthleven on 2nd-4th Nov 1966. No records in the 1970s and only one in the 1980s: on 5th Nov 1981. By the 1990s, it was more frequently recorded, with singles on 9th May 1991, 4th-21st Oct 1994, 14th Apr 1995, 30th Oct 1996, 2nd & 4th May 1997, 24th Nov 1998, and 2nd May 1999, with two on 14th May 1995.

More recent records are of singles on 29th Nov 2002, 24th Oct 2010, 11th Oct 2014, 12th Apr 2016, and 30th Oct 2017, 6th May 2018, 17th Oct 2018 and 7th May 2021. Also records of twos on 21st-24th Nov 2003, 5th Nov 2007, 19th Nov 2011. More recently there are records of long-staying birds: one, possibly two from 2nd May to 23rd Jun 2017 and up to two between 26th Apr 2020 and 13th Jul 2020, raising the prospect of breeding. In 2022, up to four birds were recorded in late March at Black Head, with another over Lizard Village on 5th May, two around Lizard Point on 19th May and at Old Lizard Head on 13th Nov. In 2023 singles were rcorded at Windmill Farm on 5th May, Caerthillian on 31st May, with another possible over Trevassack Quarry also on 31st May.

Seasonal trends (left) and 5-year totals (right) of initial sightings of Serin on the Lizard Peninsula showing a sharp increase in records and pronounced spring and late-autumn migrations.

Siskin Spinus spinus

In Cornwall as a whole, the Sisken was considered rare in the 19th century, but numbers have steadily increased since this time, in part due to the prevailance of conifer plantations. On the Lizard it is an increasingly common autumn migrant with smaller numbers occurring sporadically in winter. It probably now breeds in Croft Pascoe Woods. It is a rather late addition to the Lizard list, with the first documented records being birds at Cury on 19th Feb 1949 and Mannacan on 28th Nov 1949.

(House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus)

One at Lizard Point on 16th May 2010 was seen on a feeder in the garden behind the serpentine stone gift shop by Eleanor Reast (the RSPB Chough warden). This attracted rather less attention and debate that the one seen a few days earlier at Land's End, and was potentially the same bird, but was deemed to be an escape.

Lapland Bunting Calcarius lapponicus [BoCC5: Amber]

Formerly rare, but now a fairly regular autumn migrant and winter visitor, with occasional years in which quite large numbers are recorded. A flock of 22 was discovered at Chyvarloe on 23rd Nov 2011 (I Maclean), with numbers eventually reaching 40 on by 31st Jan 2012. The first record (2nd for Cornwall) was of one at Hot Point on 15th Oct 1960, with another early record of one at Trethvas on 15th-16th Oct 1961. Extreme dates are 24th Aug 2010 (heralding the large influx) and 26th Apr (1965).

A somewhat early Lapland Buntin on 27th September 2020. Tony Blunden

Seasonal trends of initial sightings of Lapland Bunting on the Lizard Peninsula (where dates available). Blue: pre-2020 records. Red: post-2020 records (including 2020). Over-wintering is a recent phenominom

Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis [BoCC5: Amber]

Snow Buntings were well-known to 19th and early 20th century ornithologists in Cornwall, though most records appear to be form the north coast. Thus while it may have been more common in Cornwall as a whole historically, there is little evidence of a systematic change in status on the Lizard, owing in part to the difficulty of discerning such a trend when the species is prone to periodic influxes.

It is currently a scarce autumn migrant and rare winter visitor and spring migrant. Spring records include singles at Gunwalloe on 8th Mar 1940, Predannack Head on 14th Apr 1959, Goonhilly on 28th Apr 1967, Loe Bar on 4th Mar 1978, near Kynance on 16th Mar 1986 and Lizard Point on 18th Mar 2006. Winter records include single at Loe Bar on 24th Dec 1969, Kynance on 27th Dec 1996 and Helston on 10th Jan 2000 and 10th Jan 2001. Also a flock of 7 on Loe Bar on 6th Dec 1996, declining to 3 by 15th Feb 1997 and to 2 by 10th Mar 1997.

The top sites for this species are Loe Bar and Pool (31 records) and around Kynance (20 records).

Snow Bunting at Mullion Gold Course, Nov 2020. Ilya Maclean

Seasonal trends of initial sightings of Snow Bunting on the Lizard Peninsula (where dates available). Blue: pre-2020 records. Red: post-2020 records (including 2020).

Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra [BoCC5: Red]

Historically, Corn Buntings were regarded as common in Cornwall and the species was documented as being abundant in the Lizard area in the 1800s. Recorded in song at Gunwalloe, Kynance and Lizard area in spring of 1963 and noted as breeding in the Porthleven, Mullion and Lizard areas in 1976 and in the Loe Bar-Porthleven area in 1981 and 1982. The last documented breeding was in 1983, though later records of birds sing in territory include several near Kynance in 1985, one near Coverack and another at Preddanack Head in 1986 and one at Kynance in 1988.

The species became much scarcer after 1990. Post 1990 records include singles in the south Lizard area on 2nd Jun 1994, 4th Nov 2000, 3rd Sep 2011, 21st Oct 2012, 24th Sep 2017, 10th Nov 2018-9th Mar 2019 and near Porthleven on 16th May 2015. Also 4-5 in the south Lizard area on 11th Dec 2009-1st Feb 2010. The highest count, however is of a party of 19 near Lizard Village on 11th Apr 1952.

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Chaffinch on the Lizard. Medium-sized squares indicate probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding. The species currently extinct as a breeder.

Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella [BoCC5: Red]

Historically this species was common and widespread across Cornwall, and in the 19th and early 20th centuries it was abundant on the Lizard, particular towards the north. However, by 1963 it was noted as being in steep decline, a trend that has been ongoing since this time. The last known breeding site on the Lizard Peninsula was between Gwendeath and Gwenter in 2005, but pairs continue to hold territory (at least in 2020 and 2021) just outside the Lizards, at Carnmeal Downs.

It is currently a rare visitor. Records post-2000 include one in Lizard area on 4th Apr 2011, at Helston on 21st Oct 2018, at Gweek on 11th Apr 2021, along Lloyd's Lane on 10th May 2021,

at Kynance in April 2022, at Hugher Bochym on 27th Oct 2022 and at Culdrose on 17th May 2023. The highest documented count is of 70 near Coverack on 6th Dec 1981.

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Yellowhammer on the Lizard. Medium-sized squares indicate probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding. From being quite widespread a few decades ago, the species has declined to extinction as a breeder.

(Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos)

A possible was seen briefly on Old Lizard Lane on 6th Nov 2019 (D Collins).

Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana

Scarce to rare early autumn migrant with almost all records falling into a concentrated period in late Aug and early Sep, though it is occasionally recorded later in autumn, with records as late as 12th Oct (1995). There is also one spring record: a female on 23rd May 1989. There are 35 records in total involving 40 birds, the first being on 17th Sep 1977. Up to 5 frequented the Husel Bay waterings areas on 5th-6th Sep 2003.

Field notes of an Ortolan Bunting seen in Sep 2009 at Housel Bay. Ilya Maclean

How it should be done. Possibly the same Ortolan a few days earlier in Tony's Garden. Tony Blunden.

Seasonal trends (left) and 5-year totals (right) of initial sightings of Ortolan Bunting on the Lizard Peninsula.

Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus [BoCC5: Red]

Regarded in the 19th century as 'not uncommon' in Cornwall, on the Lizard it is a former breeder and historically, in the 1800s, was fairly common. Now a scarce visitor, potentially from nearby breeding populations, implying breeding in future is a possibility. Breeding is documented from the North Helford area in the 1960s on from Black Head in 1966. A pair resident in Caerhillean 17th Apr-17th Sep 1977. Older records of singing brids or suggestive of birds holding territory are from Porthleven in 1964-1965, Polwheveral Creek on 2nd Apr 1970, Helston Cattle Market on 4th Jul 1973, Church Cove on 15th May 1979, Mullion on 9th May 1982 & 11th Nov 1984, Landwednack Valley on 16th Apr 1985, Bass Point on 5th Apr 1987, Coverack 29th Dec 1989, Church Cove on 3rd-9th May 1991, Lowland Point on 8th-9th Jun 1995 and Newton-St. Martin in Apr& May 1995.

In the 1990s, concerted efforts were made to establish the location of the last few breeding pairs, and as such two pairs are known to have bred successfully in the St. Keverne area in 1991-93, one pair in 1994, two pairs in 1995 and three pairs in 1996, with sightings through to 1999 but no confirmed breeding. Another pair bred near Mawgan-in-Meneage in 1991.

Subsequently, much rarer with the only records being of singles at Church Cove on 6th Mar 1996, Lloyd's Lane on 21st-24th Jan 2017, Kynance Road on 18th Nov 2017 and Porthleven on 11th Apr 2020. Also up to 6 coming to feeders at an undisclosed site in the first half of 2010.

Cirl Bunting, Lloyd's Lane. Ilya Maclean

Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla

Formerly rare, now scarce, with the only records prior to 2014 being of singles at Caerthillean on 4th Nov 1986 (B Cave) and 1st May 1990 (B Cave).

Subsequent records are:

2014: 11th-12th Oct at Church Cove (I Maclean)

2015: 11th Oct at Church Cove.

2017: 28th Oct-4th Dec at Old Lizard Head (T Blunden), with another Kynance Road on 18th-20th Nov (I Maclean).

2018: 20th Oct-4th Nov along Kynance Road (D Eva), 2nd Oct-15th Nov at Housel (T Blunden, two seen on 3rd Nov) and on 4th Nov at Little Treliever (J Foster).

2019: 22nd Oct at Housel (I Maclean) and 1st Dec at Goonhilly.

2020: 23rd Nov at Cadgwith (S Croft).

The first of the two 2017 Little Buntings. Tony Blunden.

Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala

Rare, just one record: from Pistol Meadows on 31st Oct 2019 (M Pass).

Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus [BoCC5: Amber]

James (1908) and Couch (1838) describe the this species as "scarce" and "local" in Cornwall respectively. Rodd (1851) was more precise: "not uncommon in marshes where bushes grow". On the Lizard, it has been known to breed at Gunwalloe since the 1930s and probably still does so. A singing male was also heard at Loe Pool in the spring of 2020. In the 1980s and early 1990s a few pairs bred on the Lizard Downs, but it appears to have declined since this time with pairs only holding territory sporadically.

Breeding numbers are supplemented by autumn migrants, and to a lesser extent by spring migrants and winter visitors, when at times small flocks can be found in suitable stubble fields.

Reed Bunting, Gunwalloe Marsh, Feb 2021. Ilya Maclean

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Reed Bunting on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.

Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis

Rare, with just two definite and an additional two possible records. One heard singing in the Lizard area on 27th May 1983 and another in Lizard Village on 4th May 2007. Also reported from Loe Pool on 8th Jan 2012 and Penrose on 13th Apr 2018.

Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia

Rare, with just one record: a bird at Church Cove on 24th Sep 1983.

194 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page