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Usually a scarce passage migrant species in Dorset but occasionally numbers irrupt

Photograph by: 
Ian Ballam

Some bird species are subject to irruputions when their numbers surge and go way above what is considered to be the norm. This is a well known characteristic of the waxwing and crossbill and in the winter of 2017/8 here in Dorset we witnessed an irruption of hawfinch. Not a breeding species in Dorset, it is considered a scarce passage migrant with just the occasional record in some winters so to have Hawfinch being seen daily in a good number of locations was an unusual experience.

The irruption of winter 2017/8 started in October of 2017 when there reports from week 40 onwards. Starting with just three reports in week 40 there were 20 by week 43 before the number of reports each seek started to decline. This decline was, I am sure, partly due to the initial wave interest with birders dashing off to known sites to see them waning and then we entered a period of reports from people revisiting occasionally to monitor the hawfinches presence. They remained until the following April and by week 16 in 2018 they were all gone.

The reports came from across the county and it was churchyard yews that proved the most preferred locations for them being seen regularly at Cattistock, Leigh and Lytchett Matravers. There was also a large flock in woods in the grounds of Bryanston School, near Blandford. Around forty other sites produce at least one report to show how widespread they were in the county during this time.

If you want to see hawfinch in Dorset you will probably have to wait until the next irruption and who knows when that will be?



Common Name Hawfinch
Scientific Name Coccothraustes coccothraustes
Species Group Birds Finches and Buntings
Status Rare
Interest Level
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
Look for

A brown and buff bird with a stout strong beak

Identification Notes
  • A rare visitor to Dorset but subject to population irruptions from time to time
  • In winter known to visit churchyard yew trees to feed on the berries
  • A distinctively marked finch with a very stout beak
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

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

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Finches and Buntings