Bullfinches in the ROK: From Pink to Grey and Much Between! 

Nial Moores, November 29th 2012

 
November 2012 has been a good month for seeing Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula in the ROK – with records throughout the country. This note is written to share some images of the various taxa and to seek help in improving identification criteria – as e-mails to that effect sent this month to various list-servers and to folks who have handled these birds have so far drawn a complete blank…Can you help?

 

Fig. 1:  Male griseiventris Eurasian Bullfinch, Gwangneung National Arboretum, November 23rd, 2012. Videograb, copyright of Nial Moores / Birds Korea.
 

Introduction

 
Across its vast range (from Western Europe to Kamchatka), both male and female Eurasian Bullfinch are stubby-billed and distinctively black-capped and white-rumped.  In Western Europe, differences between the various subspecies are fairly subtle (see e.g. Pennington and Meek 2006).  First-winters are believed to resemble adults (with major differences confined to the greater coverts and alula: Svensson 1992).   Adult males of all taxa have much red on the underparts, and are obviously brighter below than adult females (which are generally brown or brownish).

In contrast, in East Asia male underpart colour can be all-grey (cineracea); red-cheeked and cool ash-grey breasted and bellied (griseiventris); red-cheeked and reddish-brown breasted and bellied (rosacea); pink (cassini); or red (nominate pyrrhula).  Most males have greyish upperparts (with a greyish bar across the greater coverts), though rosacea can appear brown-toned above and pyrrhula should (perhaps!) be cleanest grey above and show some pure white in the wing-bar. Females are much duller than males, often brown-toned below and above – though sexual dimorphism is much reduced in cineracea.  Females are therefore generally described or depicted as grey (cineracea), greyish-brown (griseiventris), dark brown (rosacea) or brown (the two other taxa) on the underparts, and greyish or grey-brown on the upperparts.

In both sexes, there is believed to be some variation in the extent of white or whitish in the undertail, with cassini perhaps showing the most white and griseiventris and cineracea the least.

It is generally assumed that First-winters differ from adults as in Western Europe. However, some online resources appear to assume that at least First-winter male griseiventris can be almost all grey on the underparts, without red cheeks (see for example the “probable First-winter male griseiventris” on November 3rd 2012 at: http://amurbirding.blogspot.kr/2012_11_01_archive.html).
 
Figure 2 is a coarse approximation of breeding areas of these various East Asian taxa.  All are believed to be partially migratory, and all but nominate pyrrhula (surprisingly, considering how close it is supposed to occur) have been claimed on the Korean Peninsula.

 

 

Fig. 2:  Approximate breeding range of various East Asian Eurasian Bullfinch taxa based largely on Pennington and Meek (2006), which does not recognise rosacea, and Brazil (2009).  Brazil (2009) maps Eurasian Bullfinch as a summer visitor in the northern part of the range (the northern half of the range of pyrrhula and much of the range of cassini), with birds resident in the central area, and birds in much of NE China, the Korean Peninsula and e.g. in Honshu and Kyushu in Japan found there only in winter.  While the main range of cineracea is mapped in black, the small black dot is intended as the approximate location of Muravioka Park in Russia, where one or more cineracea were banded in autumn 2012 (per the fascinating Amur Birding Blog). Map outline is from http://www.worldatlas.com.
 
 

Eurasian Bullfinch in the ROK

 
In the ROK, Eurasian Bullfinch is a winter visitor, with most records from mid-October to March.  There are perhaps no records of juveniles.
 
 

Rosacea

 
Rosacea, as might be expected from its range, is the most numerous Eurasian Bullfinch taxon in the ROK.   It is a generally uncommon winter visitor, scarcer southward, usually found in mixed forest and wooded parkland in hilly or mountainous areas.

In males, the cheeks are red and the underparts reddish, variably washed through with brown or greyish-brown. The upperparts can also appear rather brown-washed.  Males generally considered to be rosacea are therefore those birds that lie between cassinii / pyrrhula and griseiventris in breast and upper belly coloration.
 

Fig. 3:  “Typical” rosacea, Gwangneung, December 2005. Nial Moores / Birds Korea.

 

Fig. 4: A rather brighter-looking male rosacea, Gwangneung, January 2010, copyright of Robin Newlin.

 
 

Fig. 5: An extreme male rosacea or a warmly-toned griseiventris?  Geoje, November 26th 2012.  Copyright of Matt Poll.

 
 

Fig 6:  The same grey-toned individual as above, with a more obvious rosacea to the left.

 
 
Presumed female rosacea are rather dark brown on the upper and underparts (as in Fig. 3), with some perhaps occasionally showing a hint of pinkish-brown tones on the cheeks and breast (see Figure 14 in Pennington and Meek 2006 for a female pyrrhula also showing pink below the cap).

 

Fig. 7:  Putative ‘bright female rosacea’ (?) Gwangneung, January 2010. Copyright of Robin Newlin.  Note too the obvious white streaks on the undertail.

 

By late November 2012, rosacea had already reached as far south as Geoje and Busan.   An adult male was even photographed on the Japanese Island of Miyakejima (at approximately 34.08N, 139.53 E)  by Peeter Musta on November 17th .

 

Cassini / Pyrrhula

 
Both Austin (1948) and Tomek (1999-2002) (who cited Won Hong-Koo 1963-1965) considered cassini (not pyrrhula) to have been recorded in the DPRK.  Brazil (1991) also regarded cassini as a rare winter visitor to Japan (with only four or five specimen records there by that time).

Austin (1948) described the “northeastern race” cassini as “larger and markedly redder” than rosacea. Cassini is therefore the name generally given to males in Korea with red underparts that are concolorous with the cheeks – varying in tone from pinkish to deeper red (latter type perhaps instead referrable to nominate pyrrhula?).  This taxon is a very uncommon or even rare winter visitor to the ROK.

 

Fig. 8:  Male cassini, location unknown (probably Gwangneung), December 2007. Copyright of Kim Shin-Hwan / Birds Korea.

 

It is still unclear at present whether birds with a faint brown wash across the pink of the underparts should be considered as “cassini-types” with some rosacea influence or simply as dull (First-winter?) male cassini. Note that the mapped breeding range of cassini “meets” the nominate subspecies in a wide area, but should be more or less isolated by open sea from griseiventris and rosacea.

 

Fig.9:  Male cassini or “cassini-type”, Gwangneung, November 23rd 2012, with male griseiventris. Nial Moores / Birds Korea.  At some angles it appeared clean salmony- pink below, while at other angles (as here) it showed some contrast between the clean pink of the cheeks and the slightly duller breast and belly.

 
 

Griseiventris

 
Although considered by some authors to be synonymous with rosacea, true griseiventris is restricted as a breeder to Honshu, Hokkaido and the Kurile Islands.   Males are especially striking to look at – with bright pink cheeks cut off distinctly from cool grey underparts.

A male present in the national arboretum (in Gwangneung, east of Seoul) between at least December 22nd 2005 (when first found by NM) and February 13th 2006 (when photographed by Jim Parkas), was perhaps the first adequately-documented ROK record of this taxon.

 

Fig. 10:  Male griseiventris, Gwangneung, February 13th 2006. Image copyright of Jim Parkas (and used by Birds Korea with permission). Note that some of the underpart warmth in the image is from the branches in front of the bird.

 
 

A second, even cooler-grey toned male was found at the same location (by NM, Brad Sulentic and Jimm Edgar) on November 23rd 2012, when some poor digiscope images and short video were taken.

 

Fig. 11:  Male griseiventris, Gwangneung, November 23rd, 2012. Nial Moores / Birds Korea.

 

For a short video clip of this bird, also see:

 

 
 

Cineracea

 
Cineracea is a north-western taxon that, based on its mapped range, might seem most unlikely to occur in the ROK. However, Tomek (2002) cites Won Hong Koo as stating that cineracea had been recorded during the breeding season in northernmost Korea. In addition, Austin (1948) saw a “singularly blue-grey” female, which he considered “probably” to be a cineracea, in a small series of birds collected in November 1929 in the far north-eastern provinces of present-day DPRK. It seems possible, therefore, that the range of cineracea might extend rather further east than is usually recognised (again, note the banding records of at least one cineracea and two putative griseiventris – also perhaps cineracea?-  in autumn 2012 at Muravioka Park in eastern Russia on the Amur Birding Blog).

Identification criteria of this taxon remain especially poorly-known, despite it being considered by some Russian authorities to be a full species. A range of online sources suggest that it can show a trace of pinkish tones, especially immediately below the cap, and that although it has greatly reduced sexual dimorphism some females can appear faintly brown-washed across the flanks.

One bird in the mixed flock of Eurasian Bullfinch at the National Arboretum on November 23rd 2012 appeared strikingly grey both above and below in brief binocular views. It was then disgiscoped briefly and by chance as it fed alongside the male griseiventris, unfortunately from below at dusk.  In direct comparison with the male griseiventris, it appeared similarly-sized, though perhaps with an even stubbier bill, with similarly-toned grey underpartsHowever, it also showed a faintly brown wash to the flanks and some faint warmth immediately below the cap. In combination, it appeared out of the range of rosacea and cassini, and unlike any plumage of griseiventris known to NM.

 

Fig. 12:  Putative cineracea (male or female?) with griseiventris, Gwangneung, November 23rd 2012. Videograb copyright of Nial Moores / Birds Korea.

 

 

Fig. 13: Same as above. Note the slight hint of warmth below the eye, and the lack of white or obvious pale in the outer tail feathers.

 
 

For a very short video clip of this cineracea type with the griseiventris and some vocalisations from the mixed flock, see:

 

 
 
 
 
In summary, many questions remain about the identification of these taxa.  As always, informed comment and permission to post images of individuals of known identity from other areas will be most welcomed!
 
 
 

References

 
Austin, O. L., Jr 1948. The birds of Korea. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University 101: 1-301.

Brazil, M. 1991. The Birds of Japan. Published by Helm.

Brazil, M. 2009. Birds of East Asia. Helm Field Guides.

Pennington, M. & E. Meek. 2006. The ‘Northern Bullfinch’ invasion of 2004. British Birds 99. January 2006 > 2-24 (pre-publication pdf).

Svensson, L. 1992. Identification Guide to European Passerines. Published and sold by the author.

Tomek, T. 1999-2002. The birds of North Korea. Acta Zoologica Cracoviensia 42: 1-217; 45: 1-235 (in English).

Won H-K. 1963-65. [The birds of Korea]. Pyongyang, 1-3 (in Korean).

3 comments on “Bullfinches in the ROK: From Pink to Grey and Much Between! 

  1. As a postscript to this note, and as preparation for a follow-up note (for posting within February – if time allows) we have received several most helpful and interesting emails on East Asian bullfinches (identification, distribution and taxonomy) – including from Dr. Hiraoka Takashi at Japan’s Yamashina Institute for Ornithology and from Dr. Vadim Ivushkin in Irkutsk. As expected, there seems to be widely differing views on the various taxa. For example, while Russian authorites recognise several species of bullfinch in East Asia, others do not – and apparently not all male griseiventris breeding in Japan necessarily lack pinkish breast tones…

    We would therefore warmly welcome receiving images and sound recordings of the various bullfinch taxa from different parts of their ranges (labelled clearly with date and location) in order to help refine our own basic attempts at describing honestly what we are seeing here in Korea – in the best bullfinch winter in over a decade.

    Thanks in advance!

    • In 2015, I published an article on Bullfinch, there are specified areas of contemporary forms of bullfinches. It is being prepared for publication in English and is available only in Russian -https://www.academia.edu/14950649/Genus_Pyrrhula_Brisson_1760_composition_distribution_and_ecology_features

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