Monday, 20 December 2010

Azores bullfinch

Pyrrhula murina

Photo by Carlos Ribeiro (Flickr)

Common name:

Order Passeriformes
Family Fringillidae

The Azores bullfinch is endemic to the island of São Miguel in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. They are only found in the mountainous areas of the eastern part of the island, in Serra da Tronqueira and Pico da Vara.

These birds are 15-17 cm long and have a wingspan of 25 cm. They weigh up to 30 g.

The species appears entirely dependent on the trees of the native laurissilva forests, at altitudes of 300-700 m. In the Summer they prefer more open areas, while in the Winter they go deeper into the forest.

This species is mostly herbivorous, consuming a range of seeds, fruits and flower buds from native plants. They are also know to eat fern sporangia and fronds, and moss tips. They may occasionally hunt small invertebrates, namely Hemiptera.

The Azores bullfinch breeds in May-August. The nest, placed in a low tree, consists of an outer layer of twigs and an inner layer of rootlets, grass and moss. The female lays 3-5 eggs which she incubates alone for 12-14 days. The young typically fledge from mid-July onwards.

IUCN status - EN (Endangered)
Although the population is not currently declining, there are just 1300 individuals spread over an extremely small breeding range. The species was abundant until the early 1900s, when it was considered a pest of fruit orchards. It became rare in the 1920s due to hunting and deforestation. Presently, the main threat is the spread of alien invasive plant species that limit their food supply. Predation by introduced rats and mustelids may also be affecting nesting success.

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