The Bullfinch. Bullfinches are permanent residents with us; not very plentiful in any locality. They may be round in most places where there are leafy coverts, and especially near fruit gardens, to which they do much mischief by picking the buds off the trees. The gardeners call them " pick-a-buds," and wage a war of extermination against them. It should be remembered, however, that these birds are great insect-destroyers, and, perhaps, do as much good as harm. It is, indeed, contended by some authorities that every bud which they pick off envelopes a grub, that being the object sought for, and that alone eaten, and the vegetable covering rejected. We cannot say whether this be the case or not, but would fain give our friend "bully" the benefit of the doubt.
The bullfinch's nest is sometimes found in the apple or some other fruit tree ; it is usually at a considerable height from the ground. The young should be taken early, if they are to be taught to pipe, or imitate the songs of other birds. Just as the tail feathers begin to appear, that is, when they are about twelve or fourteen days old, is perhaps the best time. Bolton says much younger, but we think this injudicious, for several reasons. The best food for the young bird is crumbs of white bread, saturated with boiling milk, and mixed with an equal quantity of soaked and bruised rape-seed. As they grow up, poppy and millet-seed, sprouting corn, lettuce and watercresses, fruit and nuts, should be given them; they may also have, when fully grown, such food as they chiefly take when in a wild state - viz. fir and pine-seeds, most berries that have kernels, buds of the beech, maple, oak, and other trees, and seeds of the nettle, and any of the cruciform plants. The young males may be distinguished from the females by the red tinge on the breast; the latter can be taught to pipe, but never so easily and so well as the former, and they are never such handsome birds, being destitute of that beautiful carmine tint which gives such warmth and richness to the plumage of the cock bullfinch. Bechstein advises that the young birds should have buckwheat grits, steeped in milk, and mixed with rape-seed; and while recommending for the old ones hemp and rape-seed, says that they live longest if fed on the latter only, with now and then a little plain biscuit, the former being so heating as sometimes to produce blindness, and bring on atrophy. If loose in the room or aviary, they will do very well on the food given to the other birds.
Grown bullfinches are easily caught by means of limed twigs, or a common trap. In spring they readily answer to the call of the decoy bird, or even a gentle "tui, tui!" uttered by the fowler. In autumn, wild berries will perhaps prove the most effectual bait. Birds thus caught are generally more healthy, and attain a greater age than those brought up in confinement, simply because they feed, when young, upon their natural food, and are not weakened by the bits of sugar and other delicacies usually given to feathered pets; under any circumstances, however, this does not appear to be a long-lived bird, eight years being the maximum age attained by the captive bullfinch, which more commonly does not live beyond six. Of course there are exceptions to this, as to all other rules, but they are few.
The chief maladies to which bullfinches are subjected are, constipation, dysentery, epilepsy, melancholy (or dejection). In this latter state, without exhibiting any particular marks of disease, they sit apart, mope, and refuse to sing; they should then be fed exclusively on steeped rape-seed, all delicacies or exciting food being avoided; change of scene is good for them. When moulting, they should have a rusty nail in the water, and good nourishing food, including a few ant's eggs, if they can be procured. The other maladies may be treated in the same way as directed for the canary. (See p. 85.)