A seed-eating finch, widespread throughout much of the UK, linnets are a colourful presence on heathlands and scrublands, particularly in coastal areas or in hedgerows on agricultural land, where they feed on weed seeds, including dandelion and dock, around the edges of cultivated fields.
Linnet female (left) and male (right)
Linnet male, non-breeding plumage
21cm to 25.5cm
15g to 22g
The most notable feature of a linnet is only present in males of the species, making it easy to distinguish between the sexes. Males have a rosy pink forecrown and crimson streaking across their throats and breast. This contrasts with its otherwise rather dull colouring, with a reddish-brown back, dark wings, a grey head, and a pale whitish breast and belly.
Outside of the breeding season, males lose their pinkish colouring, becoming a dull brown, with pale breast feathers. Legs are pinkish, eyes a dark brownish-black, and a horn-grey bill.
Females lack any pink whatsoever and have greyish-brown upperparts, greyish-buff underparts, and streaky spotted brown speckling on the pale breast. Their faces, also greyish-brown, feature paler markings around the eye.
A forked tail and white wing patch are present all year round and visible in flight, which has a distinctive undulating pattern. These markings can be seen in male, female and juvenile linnets.
Juvenile birds are similar to adult females, but more streaked and with an overall duller appearance.
Male Linnet in breeding plumage
Linnets are one of the smaller, slimmer members of the finch family, smaller than greenfinches and chaffinches, but slightly larger than goldfinches and siskins. Males are usually slightly larger than females in all aspects.
Female Linnet in natural habitat
Male linnets deliver a lilting, twittering song, from songposts often located at the top of a bush or a prominent perch in a tree. Rapid trilling calls can be heard in flight or near the nest site during breeding, which have a distinctive ‘tetter-tett’ sound.
Linnet singing during springtime
Linnets are primarily seed-eaters, foraging on the ground and in bushes for arable weeds, including thistle, dock, knotgrass, hawthorn, birch, dandelion and mayweed. When breeding, their diet also contains some invertebrates, including larvae and small snails. Fruit and buds are also eaten.
Unlike other finches that feed their young on insects, linnets raise their chicks exclusively on seeds. Small weed seeds are regurgitated directly into the bills of nestlings, particularly wildflower seeds and dandelion spores.
Linnet, breeding plumage, foraging on the ground
Linnets have adapted well to living in a diverse range of habitats, including untended common land and rough ground, expanses of heathland, hedgerows on agricultural land, saltmarshes, and in parks and gardens.
Gorse and heather are particularly important for foraging and nesting, and some low trees are also necessary for song posts.
Linnets are found across west, central, and northern Europe, from Scandinavia in the north to Spain in the south. Across the Mediterranean, linnets breed in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
To the east, the range extends across Greece, the Balkan states, and into Turkey, and further north through Poland, the Baltic States, and southern Russia to western Siberia.
In the northern parts of the range, linnets are breeding visitors only, while wintering grounds are present in Egypt, Iran, and parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Europe’s breeding population of linnets is concentrated mainly in Spain, France and Ukraine. Germany and Russia also have notable populations, while in Finland and the UK, some small recovery to numbers has been recorded in recent times due to linnets adapting their range to include more parks and gardens.
Linnet perching on an old branch feeding on seeds
Linnets are declining across their global range, but are still a very numerous species, with a global population of up to 98 million individuals, of which around 63.7 million are estimated to live in Europe. Sightings in winter are particularly common when they join large flocks with other finches and can be seen foraging on wasteland and scrub patches.
Linnets are present in much of the UK all year round, with more than 560,000 breeding territories in Britain. They are widespread across England and eastern Wales but particularly concentrated in coastal regions from the south-east of England to eastern Scotland.
On average, linnets have a fairly short life expectancy, with 2 years being typical. Older individuals have been identified through ringing schemes, including one that reached 8 years and 3 months. Breeding is possible once they reach maturity, at one year.
Linnets are registered as Schedule I birds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, which offers protection to their young, eggs, and nest sites against being disturbed or destroyed. This legislation works alongside the standard protection the Act offers to wild birds in the UK against being killed, injured, or taken into captivity.
Declines in linnet populations have been recorded in every country they live in, and in the UK, between 1970 and 2014, the linnet population fell by 57 percent. This worrying decrease led to the species being designated with Red status on the British Birds of Conservation Concern list. Despite moderate declines in numbers across Europe, linnets are classified as a species of least concern.
Factors contributing to the fall include intensification of agriculture and removal of hedgerow nesting habitats and use of herbicides to remove vital weeds from foraging grounds.
Linnet resting in natural habitat
Nest sites are chosen deep into thorny vegetation, such as blackthorn, gorse, bramble, or rose bushes, and mostly lower than 2 m off the ground. Occasionally nests are built in hedges or young conifers or at ground level, concealed by shrubbery. Female linnets construct cup-shaped nests, using small twigs, moss, and roots, and are lined with animal fur, feathers, and soft plant fibers.
Linnets have a fairly long breeding season, lasting from mid-April to early August, during which pairs raise two or three broods together. Only females incubate, with eggs hatching after 11 to 13 days. During this time, the male brings food to his mate, and both parents feed hatchlings in the nest before they fledge at 13 to 14 days.
Linnet eggs are pale blue, streaked with purple or brown markings. Eggs are smooth, measuring between 18 mm by 13 mm (0.7 in by 0.5 in). A typical clutch contains four or five eggs.
Linnets are a seasonally monogamous species, forming strong bonds with a mate and raising two or three broods together in a breeding season. After breeding is complete, pairs separate and new mates are chosen the following spring.
Nest of a Linnet with six eggs
Nest of a Linnet with nestlings
Male linnets are especially territorial during the breeding season and will defend the nest and surrounding area. Once their young have gained independence, linnets become more sociable and form large mixed-species flocks with other finches, particularly siskins.
Flock of Linnets in-flight
Linnets are a partially migratory species, with northern populations moving seasonally between breeding and wintering grounds. In much of central, western, and southern Europe, they are sedentary birds, resident all year round in the same territories, and joined in winter by migrants from further north and east into Russia.
Around 560,000 pairs of linnets breed in the UK each year and remain in the country all year round. To the north of England and in much of Wales, linnets are seen in summer only and move slightly further afield to lower-lying land or undertake short migrations to continental Europe once winter approaches.
A rare breeding bird in the UK, twite numbers have dropped dramatically in northern England since 1990, with only a handful of pairs remaining. Efforts are ongoing to revive the UK breeding population, with further pairs nesting in Wales and across Scotland, which is joined by migrants from northern Europe during winter months.
One of twenty species in the Spinus genus, Eurasian Siskins are small widespread finches with predominantly yellow/green plumage. Not uncommon in gardens in the winter, birdwatchers are most likely to encounter these agile little birds in coniferous forests and plantations.
Serins are the smallest European member of the finch family. Rare reports exist of breeding serins in isolated parts of the UK, and small numbers might be seen during migration passage each year, although sightings are not guaranteed.
Unique to the Caledonian pine forests of the Scottish Highlands, the Scottish crossbill is the UK mainland’s only endemic bird species that is not found anywhere else in the world. Visually, it’s relatively hard to distinguish Scottish crossbills from the two other crossbill species (common crossbill and parrot crossbill) found in the UK.
A rare breeding bird in Britain, found mainly in pine forests in the Scottish Highlands, the parrot crossbill is both the rarest and the largest of the three crossbill species found in the UK. Similar in plumage to the red crossbill and common crossbill, the key identifying features of the parrot crossbill lie in the shape of its head shape, its bill structure and the pitch of its song.
A tiny finch, only marginally larger than a blue tit, the lesser redpoll is an acrobatic streaky seed-eater, that can be seen all year round throughout Ireland, in much of Wales, northern England and parts of northern and central Scotland.
Britains largest finch, the hawfinch is unmistakable due not only to its size and light chestnut colouring, but mainly because of its giant, almost cartoon-like bill. They are fairly secretive birds, and with a maximum 1,000 breeding pairs in the UK, sightings would certainly count as memorable.
Identified by its distinctive yellow wing patches and wheezing call, the Greenfinch is a common garden bird throughout the United Kingdom.
The European goldfinch is common across southern England, and can frequently be seen feeding on the seeds of thistles, teasels and other scrubland vegetation.Goldfinches are enjoying a population boom, with garden visits reported to be up 70 percent on numbers seen 20 years ago.
The common rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus) is resident in forest and woodland habitats across northern Europe and Asia, and, as its name suggests, has a plumage marked with various shades of red and pink.
This medium sized finch is a specialised feeder with a chunky downwards curving beak which is crossed at its end giving rise to its descriptive name.
One of the smaller members of the finch family, the common redpoll breeds in northern latitudes and despite their tiny, fragile body size, can survive in bleak Arctic tundra landscapes.
One of the most common birds to visit back gardens in the UK – and also one of the most easy to identify – the chaffinch is a colourful and tuneful finch, known for its cheery, repetitive trilled song. They live in a wide range of habitats, and with more than 5 million breeding pairs, it shouldn’t be too difficult to tick one off your bird spotting list if you know where to look.
The Bullfinch is an unobtrusive but beautiful woodland bird, and an occasional garden visitor.
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