This small to medium sized finch is a breeding resident found throughout the UK apart from the far west of northern Scotland. A social bird, it often feeds in flocks throughout the year.
The adult male’s summer plumage ensures an enticing display to attract a female making him one of the more recognisable members of the finch family. The back of the bird is a plain pale orange brown with dark grey to black upperwings and a dark tail. The head is pale grey with a red forehead and pale cheek patch. The throat is a paler grey still morphing into a pinky red chest and light buff to white belly and undertail coverts. There are white streaks along the feathers of the upper wing and sides of the tail feathers. The rump is a pale orange brown and the short chunky bill is dark grey. The male’s winter plumage is more subdued with a darker brown head and a significant reduction of the pinky colouration to the breast. The female has a tawny buff chest with a white belly and streaked brown upperparts. The head is brown with a pale cheek spot and pale eyebrows.
Female linnet (left) and male linnet (right)
In flight the linnet twitters and chatters almost constantly with a call of ‘chi – chi – chi’ and ‘tidit’. Its song is both rich and melodious which is why in the past it was a popular cage bird.
Linnets forage almost exclusively for seeds on the ground year round, often in large groups and whilst it is becoming more common in urban and suburban areas it is a rare garden visitor. Hatchlings are often fed on insects by the parents.
Common Linnet close up (male)
Farmland, upland meadows, heaths, salt marshes and even waste ground are all attractive to linnets seeking hedgerows and seeding plants. Whilst their numbers have declined they are still relatively widespread throughout the UK with concentrated populations along the east coast of England running up to as far as Aberdeenshire in Scotland.
Linnets most closely resemble Lesser Redpolls and Twites and careful observation is required to tell them apart particularly out of the breeding season when the male linnet loses most of his red chest. Where linnets prefer open lowland habitats, twites are more likely to be encountered in mountain or upland regions. Again distribution and habitat helps with the redpoll as being predominantly a tree feeder it prefers woodland areas. Neither the twite nor the redpoll have a song as melodious as that of the linnet.
Linnets in flight
Linnets can produce up to three broods annually between April to July with each brood averaging from 4 – 6 eggs. Eggs are pale blue with brown spots and are incubated by the female for fourteen days. The nest is constructed by the female alone and is a small cup shape made from twigs, grass and moss lined with hair.
Linnet nest with chicks
Linnets have a life expectancy of two to three years.
An exquisite little bird, distinguished by red face and characteristic bright yellow wing bands.
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.
With its powerful voice and frequent singing, the chaffinch is one of the birds most heard in woodland and parks.