All birds

Learn about a specific type of bird

By family

Learn all about different bird families

Featured

Woodpeckers
Woodpeckers

Your complete guide on everything Woodpeckers

Finches in the UK (Complete Guide with Pictures)

Finches are small-to-medium-sized songbirds, often colourful, with melodic songs and solid and specialised bills. They’re widespread throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.

The True Finch family Fringillidae is large, containing some 234 species distributed across two subfamilies and 50 genera. There’s tremendous diversity amongst finches, and taxonomists are still unsure of how to group many of them.

Besides the large Fringillidae family, there are many other birds called finches distributed across other families, including Darwin's finches of the Galapagos Islands, which are now considered members of Thraupidae (the tanagers). Darwin’s finches were pivotal in his formulation of the theory of natural selection. Finches played a decisive role in our modern-day understanding of evolution.

Finches have had a close relationship with humans for thousands of years and are much-loved for their sociable, colourful nature and melodic songs.

The UK is home to its own fine selection of these diverse and beautiful songbirds. There are around 15 to 22 finches found in the UK, though some are rare visitors or end up here as vagrants from as far as North America.

This is a guide to finches in the UK!

Common Finch species in the UK

The British finches below are generally the most likely ones you're going to spot in the UK (location dependant).

Enjoying our content?

Join thousands of others and stay updated with our exclusive newsletter. More bird facts, straight to your inbox.

We respect your privacy. Privacy policy.

European Goldfinch

Carduelis carduelis

Goldfinch
Goldfinch close up

Close up of a Goldfinch

Goldfinch adult and juvenile

Adult and Juvenile Goldfinch

European goldfinch feeding thistle

European goldfinch, feeding on the seeds of thistles

Goldfinch 2

Perched Goldfinch calling before taking off

Goldfinch 3

Typical habitats for Goldfinches include woodland, parks, gardens, scrubland and farmland

Goldfinch perched on branch

Goldfinches have a stable population in the UK

Goldfinch 1

European Goldfinch perched on a branch

Length:

12cm to 14cm

Wingspan:

21cm to 25.5cm

Weight:

14g to 19g

Alexander Henderson, XC468562. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/468562.

European Goldfinch

The common European goldfinch, also just called the goldfinch, is native to Europe, North Africa, and much of Asia. There are four subspecies of goldfinch - the UK is home to the carduelis subspecies, which is distinctively coloured with a red face and black and yellow wings.

Though they’re found throughout much of the UK and Ireland, goldfinches are most common in southern England. Their pointed bills enable them to retrieve seeds and berries that other species of birds can’t easily access. Goldfinches have a delightful and recognisable song, and are capable of mimicking elements of other birds’ songs.

There are approximately 1.5 to 1.7 million goldfinches in the UK.

Appearance

European goldfinches are small and slender, measuring 12 to 13cm long with a wingspan of around 21 to 25cm. They weigh around 14 to 19g. They’re distinctively coloured with a red face, white and brown bodies and black and yellow striped wings. The male and female are similar, but the female lacks much of the red parts of the male.

Chaffinch

Fringilla coelebs

Chaffinch
Male chaffinch

Close up of an adult male Chaffinch

Female chaffinch

Female Chaffinch

Chaffinch feeding chick

Close up of a Chaffinch fledgling being fed by adult bird

Singing chaffinch

Close up of a singing Chaffinch in its natural habitat

Chaffinch in flight

Chaffinch Flying

Male and female chaffinch

Male Chaffinch in flight, greeting a perched female

Nesting chaffinch

Male Chaffinch looking after the young chicks in the nest

Length:

14.5cm

Wingspan:

24.5cm to 28.5cm

Weight:

18g to 29g

david m, XC613420. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/613420.

Chaffinch

The Chaffinch is the UK’s most common finch and the second most common breeding bird overall. There are around 6.2 million in the UK and a further 2 million in Ireland.

The Chaffinch is regularly reported as one of the top 10 birds observed in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, though it doesn’t usually feed openly from bird feeders. While the UK has a large population of resident chaffinches, numbers are boosted by migrants from northern Europe.

Chaffinches are melodic birds with a diverse range of songs. They even have regional dialects. Though found mostly in deciduous forests, chaffinches have adapted to many habitats, including urban areas.

Appearance

Chaffinches measure 4.5 cm long, with a wingspan of 24.5 to 28.5cm and weigh around 18 to 29g. They're one of the most colourful UK finches, especially in the case of the male.

The male has a bluish cap with pink cheeks and a pinkish-red breast. Contrastingly, the female is almost all grey-brown with whitish underparts. Both the male and female have distinctive wing bars.

Greenfinch

Chloris chloris

Greenfinch
Greenfinch perching in conifer tree

Greenfinch sitting in a conifer tree

Greenfinch perched on top of moss covered post

Greenfinch perching on top of a moss-covered post

Greenfinch feeding young

Greenfinch adult feeding its young

Greenfinch on woodland ground

Greenfinch in woodland habitat

Greenfinch in natural habitat

Greenfinch in suburban garden

Greenfinches feeding

Flock of Greenfinches feeding together

Greenfinch during the winter

Greenfinch during the cold winter months

Length:

15cm to 16cm

Wingspan:

26cm

Weight:

17g to 34g

Greenfinch

Native to Europe, North Africa and Southwest Asia, the greenfinch is one of the UK’s most common resident garden birds. This colourful character is a distinctive green and has a whistling, almost wheezing song that it frequently sings as it weaves through the sky.

Greenfinch populations are not particularly stable in the UK and fluctuate with outbreaks of the parasite trichomoniasis. Consequently, greenfinches are currently listed as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 5: the Red List for Birds.

Greenfinches have large, conical bills that are typically finch-like. They’re boisterous and sociable characters that build large, bulky nests in conifers and deciduous trees. There are around 1 to 1.5 million greenfinches in the UK.

Appearance

Greenfinches are around 15cm long and have a wingspan of 24.5 to 27.5cm. They weigh approximately 28g.

Greenfinches are a light-to-olive green with a dark eye patch. The bodies and wings have grey patches, and the wings have a bright yellow flash. Greenfinches also have darker parts to their tales and a whitish underside. The females are similar but duller overall.

Linnet

Linaria cannabina

Linnet
Linnet standing on the ground

Female Linnet in natural habitat

Linnet singing during springtime

Linnet singing during springtime

Linnet foraging on ground

Linnet, breeding plumage, foraging on the ground

Linnet feeding on an old branch

Linnet perching on an old branch feeding on seeds

Linnet breeding plumage bathing

Linnet bathing

Linnet resting in natural habitat

Linnet resting in natural habitat

Flock of linnets in flight

Flock of Linnets in-flight

Length:

13.5cm

Wingspan:

21cm to 25.5cm

Weight:

15g to 22g

Linnet

A small finch with a crimson breast, the Linnet is much more abundant in the south of England than it is in Scotland and Northern Ireland. This primarily granivorous bird used to be kept as cage birds because of its melodic song and feature in many poems and literary works.

Today, their populations are dwindling rapidly and have decreased by over 50% in the last 50 years. Linnets are currently listed as Red under the UK’s Birds of Conservation Concern 5: the Red List for Birds.

Linnets nest mainly in hedgerows and dense foliage and build compact, neatly rounded nests. Linnets are actually named after one of their favourite seeds, as their name is derived from linseed, from the flax plant.

Appearance

Linnets are slender, measuring around 13.5cm with a wingspan of 21 to 25.5cm. They weigh 15 to 22g. They have a grey-brown upper body, a light-brown underside and a distinctive crimson breast. Their tail feathers are blackish. Females are duller, lacking pretty much any red.

Bullfinch

Pyrrhula pyrrhula

Bullfinch
Juvenile bullfinch

Juvenile Bullfinch

Bullfinch

Bullfinches are small birds, slightly larger than Robins

Bullfinch eating berries

Bullfinch eating berries

Bullfinch habitat

Bullfinch searching for a drink of water

Bullfinch in flight

Bullfinch (female) in flight

Bullfinch perched in tree

Male Bullfinch perched in a tree

Bullfinch nest

Bullfinch nest with four eggs inside

Bullfinch pair

Female (left) and male (right) Eurasian Bullfinches perched on a branch

Bullfinch at feeder

Bullfinch at a feeder, eating sunflower seeds

Length:

14.5cm to 16cm

Wingspan:

22cm to 26cm

Weight:

21g to 38g

Bullfinch Call

Simon Elliott, XC602105. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/602105.

Bullfinch

The plump Bullfinch is a fairly rare visitor to UK gardens. If you do see one, you’ll probably remember it for its pink-red breast, pink face, and black head. At least, that’s the case with the male - the female lacks practically any pink/red! Bullfinches are known to be extremely shy and are careful when they visit gardens.

Bullfinches used to be persecuted as they often eat the buds from fruit trees, but it’s now illegal to trap and kill Bullfinches. They’re listed as Amber under the UK’s Birds of Conservation Concern. There are around 200,000 pairs in the UK.

Bullfinches are unique amongst finches as they have food sacs in the base of their mouth. This food sac allows them to travel greater distances to forage, enabling them to transport more food to their chicks. In addition, this helps the birds isolate their nests from others.

Appearance

Bullfinches are one of the most distinctive finches, at least in the case of the red/pink-breasted male. The female lacks any pink and has a light-orange-to-brown breast. Both the male and female have dark wings, tails and heads. Their bills are very short and broad.

Brambling

Fringilla montifringilla

Brambling
Brambling non breeding plumage

Brambling, non-breeding plumage, next to a watering hole

Brambling breeding plumage in song

Brambling, breeding plumage, perched in a tree chirping

Brambling feeding on seeds during winter

Brambling feeding on seeds

Brambling during winter

Brambling standing in a dusting of snow during the winter

Brambling in mountain habitat

Brambling in mountain habitat

Brambling foraging on the ground

Brambling foraging on the ground

Brambling perching on branch covered in moss

Brambling perching on a branch covered in moss

Length:

14cm to 15cm

Wingspan:

25cm to 26cm

Weight:

24g

Brambling

Bramblings are a winter visitor to the UK, migrating from much of northern Europe, Scandinavia, Finland, Iceland, Russia and East Asia. Approximately 1 to 2 million arrive in the UK starting as early as September, and they’re often spotted in large gregarious flocks.

Brambling flocks can range into the hundreds of thousands. Most Bramblings leave the UK again in early spring, but some stay as late as May. It’s rare for any Bramblings to breed in the UK, even in Scotland.

Appearance

Bramblings are closely related to Chaffinches, and they look very similar, sporting a white rump, brown-orange breast and rusty brown and black wings. These are fairly large amongst finches, probably because they breed in cold northern regions. They’re around 16cm long with a wingspan of 25 to 26cm, and weight between 23 to 29g.

Breeding male Bramblings have a distinctive black head which they lose in the winter. Bramblings are similar to chaffinches, to which they’re closely related, but differ in their spotted sides, size (Bramblings are larger) and their white rump (the Chaffinch has a greenish rump).

In the UK, Chaffinches and Bramblings often form large mixed flocks.

Siskin

Spinus spinus

Siskin
Siskin pair sitting on branch

Siskin pair, Female (right) and Male (left)

Female siskin

Female Siskin standing on top of a tree stump

Siskin singing from branch

Siskin twittering from a perch

Siskin on ornamental apple tree eating fruit

Female Siskin feeding on fruit from an ornamental apple tree

Siskin in forest habitat

Siskin perching in the trees in forest habitat

Female siskin drinking from watering hole

Female Siskin drinking from a watering hole

Siskin breeding plumage

Siskin in full breeding plumage

Siskins in winter seraching for food

Siskins during the winter searching for food

Length:

11cm to 12cm

Wingspan:

20cm to 23cm

Weight:

11g to 18g

Siskin

Siskins are small lively finches which are most numerous in Scotland or Wales, where their numbers swell from migrants leaving northern Europe.

Inhabiting dense woodland, Siskins are more common than most people think, despite being one of the lesser-known common finches. Siskins are somewhat similar to greenfinches, but they have darker, striped wings and the males have a distinctive dark cap.

The Siskin is one of the liveliest of all the finches - they’re restless little birds that rarely stop moving! However, they’re also quite calm around humans and will even feed from the hand.

Appearance

Siskins are smaller than greenfinches, measuring around 11 to 12.5 centimetres, with a wingspan of 20 to 23 centimetres. They weigh between 10 to 18 grams. This makes them one of the smallest of the UK’s finches. Siskins are streaky yellow-green with a black-brown cap for the male. The wings are black and yellow and are much more defined than greenfinches.

Lesser Redpoll

Acanthis cabaret

Lesser redpoll
Male lesser redpoll

Male Lesser Redpoll in breeding plumage

Female lesser redpoll

Female Lesser Redpoll

Lesser redpoll nonbreeding

Lesser Redpoll in nonbreeding plumage

Lesser redpoll on a feeder

Lesser Redpoll on a garden feeder - they are one of the smallest birds you'll see coming to feeders

Lesser redpoll taking off flight

Lesser Redpoll taking off for flight

Lesser redpoll habitat

Lesser Redpolls are commonly spotted in both deciduous and coniferous woodlands

Lesser redpoll on ground

Close up of a Lesser Redpoll on the ground, foraging for food

Lesser redpoll at feeder

Lesser Redpoll eating nyjer seed from a bird feeder

Lesser redpoll foraging

Lesser Redpoll on the ground, looking for food

Lesser redpoll with seed

Lesser Redpoll on a perch with a seed in beak

Lesser redpoll close

Close up of a Lesser Redpoll

Length:

11.5cm to 12.5cm

Wingspan:

20cm to 22.5cm

Weight:

9g to 12g

Lesser Redpoll Call/Song

Marcin Dyduch, XC620926. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/620926.

Lesser Redpoll

The Lesser redpoll was recently split from its larger relative, the Common redpoll, and is also similar to the Arctic redpoll, which is an occasional winter visitor to the UK. Though Lesser redpolls do breed in the UK, mainly in the North, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, they typically migrate. Some migrants arrive from northern Europe, while others leave for France, Belgium and Spain.

Due to depleting numbers, Lesser redpolls are currently listed as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 5: the Red List for Birds. However, there is evidence that more of these birds are visiting the UK in winter than was once the case.

Appearance

Lesser redpolls are small finches with streaked brown and beige wings and upper parts. The males have a distinctive red cap. Their bills are particularly short and conical. They measure 10.5 to 12.5 centimetres long with a wingspan of 20 to 22.5 centimetres and weigh around 9 to 12 grams.

Lesser redpolls are remarkably similar to Common and Arctic redpolls. Arctic redpolls have buff-white plumage, whereas Lesser redpolls are more beige-brown and Common redpolls are ‘colder’ in appearance, and are larger than Lesser redpolls.

Twite

Linaria flavirostris

Twite
Twite bird

Close up of a Twite on the ground

Twite finch

Twites are relatively small members of the finch family

Perched twite

Twite perched on a branch, Hebrides, Scotland, UK

Twite foraging

Twite in its natural habitat, foraging for food

Twite on fence

Twite perched on a wooden fence, East Yorkshire, UK

Twite on gorse

Between October and March are the best time to spot Twites in the UK

Nesting twite

Twite gathering materials to build the nest

Twite in winter

Twites are a mostly migratory species of bird

Length:

12cm to 14cm

Wingspan:

22cm to 24cm

Weight:

13g to 18g

Twite

The uncommon Twite breeds in Scotland, the Pennines and North Wales, as well as across the Scottish islands and parts of Northern Ireland.

There are only roughly 10,000 breeding pairs in the UK. The migratory habits of the Twite are poorly understood, and their populations are concentrated in small pockets. For example, in Wales, Twites are almost exclusively found in Flintshire. Most migrate eastwards and southwards during winter, ending up in much of Central Europe.

Appearance

Twites are similar to the Linnet, but are slimmer with a stubbier, yellow bill. Their plumage is a generic streaky brown. They also lack the crimson breast that the male Linnet has during the breeding season, and the red head cap of the redpolls. Twites are extremely hard to tell apart from Linnets outside of the breeding season - both look like ‘little brown birds’.

Crossbill

Loxia curvirostra

Crossbill 4
Crossbill 6

Male showing distinctive crossed bill

Crossbill 5

Male Crossbill feeding on conifer seeds

Crossbill 1

Crossbill flying around feeding grounds

Female crossbill 1

Female Crossbill drinking from pond

Length:

16.5cm

Wingspan:

27cm to 30.5cm

Weight:

35g to 50g

Crossbill call

Peter Stronach, XC614500. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/614500.

Common Crossbill

The Crossbill is a unique finch with a crossed beak, which evolved to help it prize pine seeds from pine cones. Crossbills are fairly widespread throughout the UK and breed in the conifer forests of the Scottish Highlands, the North Norfolk coast, the New Forest, Breckland and the Forest of Dean.

There are actually three species of crossbills in the UK - “crossbill” is a genus, and not a species. These include the Scottish crossbill, the Parrot crossbill and the Red crossbill, also called the Common crossbill. Parrot and Scottish crossbills are rare in the UK.

A favourite amongst birders, crossbills are often spotted when they arrive at pools to drink. Their migratory habits are rather chaotic, as many winter arrivals from northern Europe stay in the UK to breed. They also spread across the UK in what is known as “irruptions”, usually in response to food shortages. Crossbills disperse throughout practically every region in the UK in an irruptive year.

Appearance

Crossbills are large finches, measuring around 20cm with a wingspan of almost 30cm. They weigh around 40 to 53g, which is two to three times more than other finches. But, of course, the headline here is this bird’s unique bill, which crosses over at the tip.

This bill enables the bird to pry a seed from within a conifer cone’s scales, then twisting the lower mandible to release the tongue as the bird continues to grip to see.

Less common Finch species in the UK

Although some of these finches can still regularly be seen, you're generally less likely to come across them than the birds above.

Common Redpoll

Acanthis flammea

Common redpoll in natural habitat
Common redpoll pair

Male (left) and female (right) Common Redpolls

Common redpoll feeding on ground

Common Redpoll feeding on the ground

Common redpoll calling

Common Redpoll calling out

Common redpoll eating cone seeds

Common Redpoll eating cone seeds from a fir tree

Common redpoll in winter

Common Redpoll during the winter

Common redpoll perching

Common Redpoll perching on a branch

Common redpoll in flight

Common Redpoll in-flight

Common redpoll sitting on nest

Common Redpoll sitting on its nest

Common redpoll sitting on branch

Common Redpoll perching on a branch

Common redpoll flock

Flock of Common Redpolls in-flight

Length:

12cm to 14cm

Wingspan:

20cm to 25cm

Weight:

12g to 16g

Common Redpoll

The Common redpoll is less common than the Lesser redpoll, which is remarkably similar aside from being smaller on average. Common redpolls are highly specialised to their Arctic and Sub-Arctic habitats, which is where they breed. In fact, they’re one of the most cold-hardy songbirds in the world.

Common redpolls are a rare winter visitor to the UK, where they’re most likely to be spotted on the East Coast. Migrants from Iceland and Greenland usually head further into Western and Central Europe. There are just a few hundred Common redpolls in the UK each winter.

Appearance

The Common redpoll is similar to the Lesser redpoll, and they were once considered the same species. The Common redpoll is larger, measuring around 10.5 to 14 centimetres long with a wingspan of 19 to 22cm, weighing around 12 to 16g.

Conversely, the Lesser redpoll weighs around 9 to 12g. They’re also darker overall than the Lesser redpoll.

Hawfinch

Coccothraustes coccothraustes

Hawfinch
Male hawfinch

Hawfinch (male)

Female hawfinch

Female Hawfinch

Juvenile hawfinch

Juvenile Hawfinch

Hawfinch size

Hawfinches are the largest members of the finch family

Hawfinch diet

Close up of a Hawfinch feeding on sunflower seeds

Hawfinch habitat

Hawfinches are usually spotted in mature broadleaf and coniferous forests

Hawfinch pair

Male foreground, and female background, Hawfinch pair perched on a rock

Hawfinch drinking water

Male Hawfinch taking a drink of water

Hawfinch nest with eggs

Hawfinch nest with five eggs inside

Hawfinch and greenfinches

Hawfinch with two Greenfinches, during the winter

Hawfinch flying

Hawfinch turning in flight, from below

Length:

16.5cm to 18cm

Wingspan:

29cm to 33cm

Weight:

48g to 62g

Hawfinch

The Hawfinch is massive amongst the UK’s other finches, and has a colossal conical bill which it uses to pry buds and eat large seeds. Hawfinches are rare in the UK, with a breeding population numbering around 1,000 birds, which increases to around 15,000 in winter.

In addition to being rare, Hawfinches are shy and elusive, spending much of their time in deep forest canopies. Even their songs are known to be very soft, making them hard to track down and spot.

Nevertheless, Hawfinches do have a few strongholds in the north and south of Wales, southern Scotland, the Forest of Dean, the New Forest and Breckland. In addition, Bedgebury Pinetum in Kent is well-known for hosting small flocks of feeding Hawfinches.

Hawfinch numbers in the UK are low, but have increased from the 19th-century. Even so, this is yet another of the UK’s Red List finch species, and their futures are uncertain.

Appearance

Hawfinches are beautiful large finches, measuring around 18cm long, with a wingspan of 29 to 33cm and weighing about 46 to 70g. Hawfinches are robust, stocky finches with large metallic bills. They’re primarily chestnut brown, with grey sides, a darker back and white and black wings.

Hawfinch males are pretty similar to males. These finches engage in an elaborate courtship dance and form strong monogamous bonds.

Common Rosefinch

Carpodacus erythrinus

Common rosefinch
Rosefinch calling

Rosefinch calling from a perch

Rosefinch eating seeds

Common Rosefinch eating seeds off the ground (Carpodacus erythrinus erythrinus)

Common rosefinch perched

Common Rosefinch perched on a branch

Common rosefinch female

A perched female common rosefinch

Common rosefinch male

Rosefinch male perched on top of a yellow flower

Common rosefinch nest and eggs

The nest of a common rosefinch with four blue eggs inside

Length:

14.5cm to 15cm

Wingspan:

22cm to 26cm

Weight:

21g to 27g

Rosefinch

The aptly named Rosefinch lives across much of northern Europe and Asia. Only a few hundred arrive on the UK’s east coast each winter. There are sporadic breeding records of Rosefinches in the UK, but this is certainly a rare occurrence.

You’re most likely to see one along the coast of eastern Scotland, the eastern Scottish Isles and the east and southeast of England. Rosefinches found in the UK are usually vagrants from other parts of Europe.

Appearance

Rosefinches are rose-scarlet coloured in the case of the male. The rose plumage is concentrated on their heads, necks and breasts. The female is much paler and drabber with virtually no coloured plumage at all.

Rosefinches are medium-sized finches; they’re around 14.5 to 15cm long with a wingspan of 22 to 26cm and weigh around 21 to 27g.

Serin

Serinus serinus

Serin
European serin bird identification

Close up of a perched Serin

Serin bird feeding

Serin foraging for food on the ground

Serin habitat

Serins occupy a range of habitats, from mountains to city centres

Serin taking off

Serin taking off for flight

Serin drinking water

Close up of a Serin drinking water

Serin fledgling

European Serin chick, after recently fledging the nest

European serin perched

European Serin perched on a tree branch

Length:

11cm to 12cm

Wingspan:

18cm to 20cm

Weight:

12g to 15g

Serin

The Serin is the smallest European finch and is closely related to the Atlantic canary. This slender finch prefers the warmer interior of southern and Central Europe to the UK and is abundant in France and Spain. Handfuls of migrating or dispersing Serins end up on the UK’s south and southeast coasts each spring and summer.

This has become more common since the 1960s, and a small number of breeding pairs have been observed in Devon, Dorset, Sussex, East Anglia and Jersey. However, visiting Serins account for no more than around 100 individuals, and sightings outside of spring are exceptionally rare.

Appearance

Serins are slim, small finches. The males have yellow breasts, heads and necks, with yellow and black striped wings. Their tails are long and forked.

The females are much duller, with only faint yellow. Serins measure around 11 to 12cm with a wingspan of 18 to 20cm and weigh 12 to 15g.

Parrot Crossbill

Loxia pytyopsittacus

Parrot crossbill
Parrot crossbill walking on muddy ground

Parrot Crossbill drinking water from muddy pool

Female parrot crossbill calling

Female Parrot Crossbill calling

Parrot crossbill feeding on pine cone

Parrot Crossbill extracting tiny seeds from pine cone

Female parrot crossbill in natural habitat

Female Parrot Crossbill in a pine forest

Parrot crossbills drinking in open woodland

Parrot Crossbills female and male (right) drinking in open woodland

Female parrot crossbill perching in pine tree

Female Parrot Crossbill perching on branch of a pine tree

Parrot crossbill standing in muddy puddle

Parrot Crossbill standing in a muddy water

Length:

16cm to 18cm

Wingspan:

30cm to 34cm

Weight:

48g to 61g

Parrot Crossbill

The Parrot crossbill is an uncommon crossbill of Northern Europe. In the UK, they occur almost exclusively in Scotland where there are an estimated 50 breeding pairs, with higher numbers in winter as migrants arrive from Scandinavia.

Their range in Scotland is confined to the Scottish Mainland and very rarely Orkney, Fair Isle, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides.

Appearance

Parrot crossbills have thicker bills than Common and Scottish crossbills. Their head is very thick and powerful, with practically no forehead. The males are red to rusty red across much of the breast, body and wings, but the females are a green-yellow.

Parrot crossbills measure 16 to 18cm long with a wingspan of around 30 to 34cm and weigh approximately 48 to 61g. This makes them marginally heavier than the Common crossbill.

Scottish Crossbill

Loxia scotica

Scottish crossbill
Scottish crossbill feeding on pine cone

Scottish Crossbill feeding on pine seeds

Scottish crossbill in pine tree

Scottish Crossbill peeking out from the pine trees

Scottish crossbill feeding

Scottish Crossbill perching on the branch of a pine tree

Length:

16cm to 17cm

Wingspan:

27cm to 37cm

Weight:

44g

Scottish Crossbill

The Scottish crossbill is the UK’s only fully endemic species of bird, which means that it doesn’t occur anywhere else in the world. However, there is some debate as to whether this species is truly different from the Parrot and Red crossbills, which are near-identical.

Nevertheless, the British Ornithologists Union classed the Scottish crossbill as a separate species in 1980. DNA evidence collected since then seems to suggest that the Scottish crossbill is indeed genetically distinct from the other crossbills.

There are an estimated 6,800 breeding pairs of Scottish crossbills, which are confined to Scots pine forests across the Scottish Highlands, Caledonian forests and mainland farmland. Ornithologists are sceptical of whether they’re found on Scottish islands.

Appearance

Like other crossbills in the UK, the Scottish crossbill is a heavy, robust finch with a large, crossed bill. Its bill is not as thick as the Parrot and Common crossbill, but the difference is subtle. Overall, it’s pretty much impossible to positively identify a Scottish crossbill without extensive observational evidence and recordings of its call.

Naturally, there is much controversy about the three species of crossbills present in the UK; the Scottish, Parrot and Common crossbill. Not only are these species extremely similar, but ornithologists are unsure of how to objectively identify them for the purposes of surveys.

While calls were once seen as a deciding factor in identification, a paper published by the Scottish Ornithology Club in March 2022 states that Scottish crossbills can no longer be positively identified based on their “type C” excitement call.

What are finches?

A seemingly simple question with an exceedingly complex answer!

Like many large groups of small birds, finch classification is an intractable problem. So, it's not an easy task to define what a finch actually is.

Today, the True Finch family from the Order Passeriformes is usually split into two subfamilies, the small Neotropical Euphoniinae family and the much larger Carduelinae family. The latter family also contains species known as grosbeaks, siskins, serins, redpolls, canaries and euphonias, some of which inhabit the UK. There are over 200 True Finches divided into around 50 genera.

To confuse matters further, there are many birds placed in other families which are also called "finches". These include Estrildidae, of the Pacific Islands and Australia, a few members of the bunting family (Emberizidae), the sparrow family (Passerellidae) and Darwin's finches of the Galapagos islands, who are now classed as members of the tanager family (Thraupidae).

Goldfinches are one of the most common finch species seen in gardens across the UK

Goldfinches are one of the most common finch species seen in gardens across the UK

What characterises finches?

Finches are diverse, and many are not at all alike. However, in general, these are small-to-medium-sized birds with strong, conical beaks that are often highly adapted to their habitats and food sources. Finches are often colourful, particularly in the case of the males, but the females are often drab and dull.

Distributed across the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa, extending into the Arctic, finches are wide-ranging but are absent from Australasia and Antarctica.

Finches are songbirds, and many are kept for their melodic songs. Many species of finches are excellent at memorising other birds’ songs, and can mimic elements of human music and even speech. They’re social birds, but some are trusting of humans while others are extremely shy.

Most finches are omnivorous, feeding on an array of seeds, nuts and grains as well as arthropods and invertebrates. However, many finches are specialised in eating specific foods, with perhaps no more prolific example than the crossbills, which are adept at retrieving seeds from within pine cones.

It’s this wide variation in finch bill shape and size which perked Darwin’s interests as he surveyed the Galapagos while aboard the Beagle. He noted that the Galapagos finches were fundamentally similar, they occupied their respective unique niche in the ecosystem. Some had long needle-like beaks for retrieving seeds, others long, sharp beaks for nipping buds and others strong, conical beaks for crunching large nuts and seeds, etc.

By specialising in certain types of foods and habitats, the finches were able to coexist without competing overly with each other. Darwin argued that the finches evolved to their ecosystem, becoming increasingly specialised over time.

Close up of a Greenfinch perched on a branch

Close up of a Greenfinch perched on a branch

Where are the best places to see finches in the UK?

Finches can be seen all throughout the UK. Common finches such as the Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinch are some of the easiest to spot and are widespread throughout Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England.

Most finches live in deciduous or coniferous forests, where you’re most likely to spot them. The Forest of Dean, the New Forest, the Breckland in East Anglia, the Conwy Valley in North Wales, Flintshire and much of the Scottish Highlands and Caledonian forests are home to some of the UK’s rarer finches, such as crossbills and bullfinches.

However, practically any reasonably isolated and food-abundant forest may contain some of the UK’s rarer finches, especially during early spring and early winter.

What is the most common finch in the UK?

The chaffinch is easily the most common finch in the UK, with over 6 million individuals.

The chaffinch is followed by the goldfinch and greenfinch, representing between 1 and 1.5 million pairs.

Chaffinches are the most common finch in the UK

Chaffinches are the most common finch in the UK

What is the smallest finch in the UK?

The smallest finch in the UK is probably the Serin, a rare vagrant and migrant visitor from Western and Southern Europe. Serins measure 11 to 12cm with a wingspan of 18 to 20cm and weigh 12 to 15g. The Lesser redpoll is similarly sized.

Serins are the smallest finch species in the UK

Serins are the smallest finch species in the UK

What is the largest finch in the UK?

The Hawfinch is the largest finch in the UK, measuring around 18cm long, with a wingspan of 29 to 33cm and weighing about 46 to 70g.

Hawfinches are similarly sized to the crossbills, which are also heavy-set, robust finches.

Close up of a Hawfinch perched on a branch

Close up of a Hawfinch perched on a branch

How many types of finches are there in the UK?

Around 22 finches have been recorded in the UK, including the Evening grosbeak, a vagrant from America, and two vagrants from Europe; the Citril and Trumpeter finches.

11 of these finches breed in the UK regularly, and some are spotted very infrequently (e.g. not even every year).

What finches are native to the UK?

While “native” is difficult to define, there are around 15 native species of finches in the UK. Several other species visit the UK in the winter or spring or find themselves here as vagrants from Europe.

A Lesser Redpoll perched in a tree

A Lesser Redpoll perched in a tree

Are finches protected in the UK?

Keeping pet finches is lawful in the UK, so long as the finches are captive bred and kept legally in captivity. Trapping wild finches is illegal, however.

All wild birds in the UK are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

Are there House finches in the UK?

House finches, which are native to North America, have been reported in the UK. However, these are mostly deemed escapees from captivity, and the species is currently not officially recognised.

Are there finches in London?

Greenfinches, chaffinches and goldfinches are common in London, and their numbers seem to be increasing as of late.

The 2021 RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch found that observations of goldfinches have grown in 30 of 32 London boroughs. The less common bullfinch has also been sighted in London.

Enjoyed this content? Share it now

You may also like

Get the best of Birdfact

Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.

Your information will be used in accordance with Birdfact's privacy policy. You may opt out at any time.

© 2023 - Birdfact. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced without our written permission.