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News 05 Dec 17

Britain’s Winged ‘Invaders’ Sourced to Romania

As bird-mad Britons argue about where flocks of rare finches have come from this winter, the answer, it seems, is Romania.

BIRN
London
Hawfinch. Photo: Andy Morffew

Headlines about “invasions” from Romania are common in Britain’s right-wing tabloids, usually topping angry articles about beggars making a nuisance of themselves in town centres, or construction and farm workers undercutting the local workforce.

But the latest Romanian invasion is getting a much warmer welcome from the media – as these “invaders” are not work-hungry humans competing for jobs but exotic–looking birds competing for nuts on trees.

For days, social media, wildlife blogs and mainstream newspapers in the UK have been buzzing with reports about large flocks of rarely seen finches flying over England.

The hawfinch – an attractive, chunky-looking finch with cinnamon-coloured feathers and an amazingly powerful beak – has long been the avian equivalent of the Holy Grail for Britain’s army of bird fanatics on account of its rarity in the UK.

The UK is home to only a few hundred hawfinches, which, owing to their secretive nature, are rarely glimpsed, even by dedicated bird watchers.

So the sight since late October of large flocks of hawfinches, even in town car parks, has sent wildlife watchers into a frenzy, prompting fevered debate about where they came from.

Mainstream media including the Times, Telegraph and Express newspapers have all been presenting their own rival theories.

The mass market Daily Express newspaper triumphantly claimed to have solved the mystery about the “Hawfinch Invasion”, when it declared that Tropical Storm Ophelia was responsible for blowing them north from southern Europe.

But that solution was then trumped by the conservative Daily Telegraph, which authoritatively declared last week that the “invasion” should, in fact, be sourced to Romania.

According to the Telegraph, Romania is home to about a third of Europe’s total population of hawfinches, and a disappointing harvest has forced tens of thousands of them to quit the Balkans for western Europe, including southern England.

“The remarkable invasion of the bird – which is the UK’s largest, rarest and most elusive finch - has been attributed to poor seed crop yields in other parts of Europe, notably in the bird’s main winter feeding grounds of Germany and Romania,” the paper explained.

“This class bird has created a media storm”, Britain’s biggest bird club, the RSPB, which has over one million paid members, wrote in wonder in a blog post. With the Balkan invasion far from over, it has produced its own “five top tips for seeing a hawfinch this winter”.

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