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.
Male Serin perched on a branch
Serin feeding on seeds
European Serin bathing in water
11cm to 12cm
18cm to 20cm
12g to 15g
Serins or European Serins, are small finches with varying degrees of streaky yellow and green-brown plumage, short stubby bills, forked tails, and brownish-pink legs.
Male serins have stronger yellow coloring than females, with bold yellow breast, face, wing bars, outer tail feathers and paler yellow rump. A male serin’s belly and flanks are whitish, and streaked with light brown.
Females are similar in appearance to males, but have less bold colouring, with more muted shades of yellow replacing the vibrant buttercup tones of the male.
Female Serins are heavily streaked with greenish-grey markings; this is particularly noticeable on the female serins breast, which is marked with dark criss-cross lines, in contrast to the plain yellow of the male.
Juvenile serins lack the distinctive bright yellow colouring seen on adult males of the species. They are a buff shade of off-white all over, and heavily marked with contrasting darker grey-brown stripes.
Serins are the smallest European member of the finch family, measuring only 11 cm to 12 cm in length, around the same size as or slightly smaller than a blue tit. Males and females are around the same size.
Close up of a perched Serin
Unlike the tuneful melody of their close cousin the canary, serins are known for their jangly, rasping, somewhat haphazard song, heard from perches on telephone wires or treetops.
The delicate rapid notes, sung almost exclusively by the male serin, can be heard all year round, although less frequently in autumn and winter.
The main diet of serins consists of small seeds, buds, shoots, and flowers. During the breeding season, they also forage for insects and small invertebrates such as spiders and larvae.
Insects, such as tiny grasshoppers, and larvae are fed to serin hatchlings by both parents for the first few weeks of their life. Once they are able to forage for themselves, seeds and buds will also be eaten.
Serin foraging for food on the ground
Across Europe, serins are commonly spotted in parks, gardens, cities, farmland and on the outer edges of forests. Serins are active birds, and are regularly seen in open landscapes out of the breeding season, gathering in large flocks, to forage and drink together.
Serins are common across Europe, apart from the British Isles and northern Scandinavia.
Their breeding range extends to western Russia and Belarus in the east, and as far south as north Africa, with large populations of serins resident all year round along the Mediterranean coasts of Morocco and Egypt.
To the west, breeding serins are present in the Canary Isles, while to the east, the range extends to Iran, Iraq and eastern Turkey.
Serins are adaptable birds that thrive in a range of different landscapes, from sea-level lowlands to the mountainous slopes of the Pyrenees, Alps and Carpathian mountain ranges.
They are found in city centres and residential areas, as well as in rural settings, orchards, pastures, forests and farmland. Human company does not seem to trouble serins, and they are commonly spotted in busy and densely populated areas.
Serins occupy a range of habitats, from mountains to city centres
Seeing a serin in the UK is unusual and would be a sought-after tick on any birdwatcher’s species list. Only a handful of serin sightings are reported in the UK each year, and breeding pairs are highly uncommon.
The best time to stand the slightest chance of a serin sighting is during spring passage to their breeding grounds in northern Europe, with migrating birds briefly spotted along the south and east coast most years.
Reports of UK breeding pairs are sporadic, with only one or two pairs noted each year. These sightings are limited to eastern and southern England, Devon, Dorset, Sussex and East Anglia, as well as occasionally on the Channel Islands.
Serin taking off for flight
Serins have a relatively short life expectancy of just under 2 years, although an example of a ringed individual that lived for over 13 years has been reported.
Serins’ eggs and nests may be targeted by corvids, including jays, magpies and crows. Small raptors may also raid serin nests during the breeding season.
In the UK, serins are rare visitors, and protected as wild birds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. This means they cannot be intentionally killed, injured or captured, and their eggs and nests cannot be deliberately destroyed or damaged.
Serins are currently designated as an IUCN species of least concern. Numbers are decreasing in some parts of their range due to habitat loss, but across Europe there are an estimated 10 to 13 million breeding pairs, the majority of which live in Spain all year round.
In Britain, serins have been moved to a ‘black list’ of Birds of Conservation Concern, as they have ceased breeding in the country.
Close up of a Serin drinking water
Serins nest in the branches of bushes and trees, particularly fruit trees or conifers. Females construct cup-shaped nests from grasses, leaves, moss and other plants, which are then lined with feathers and animal fur.
Serin eggs are a glossy pale blue-green in colour, specked with brownish-red markings. They measure 16 mm by 12 mm (0.6 in by 0.5 in), and weigh on average 1.2 g (0.04 oz).
Two broods are normal for serins, with between three and five eggs in a typical clutch. Only the female incubates the eggs, which hatch after 12 to 13 days.
Serins are monogamous during the breeding season, pairing up in April and raising up to two broods together. Each year new pairs will form, and pair bonds are unlikely to be maintained through the winter.
European Serin chick, after recently fledging the nest
Male serins may show signs of vocal aggression if their nest site is encroached upon but otherwise are not particularly defensive of their breeding or feeding territories, and will form loose foraging groups with other finches during winter months.
These winter flocks can potentially grow to more than 100 birds.
Many serins are migratory, breeding in eastern and northern Europe in the spring and summer and flying southwest to spend winters in Egypt, Israel and eastern Turkey. Serins that breed across much of western Europe are resident in the same territories all year round.
Serin sightings are most common in the UK between March and April, as migrating birds return to their breeding grounds in northern Europe.
European Serin perched on a tree branch
The serin is a finch, and is the smallest member of the finch family that lives in Europe. It’s related to the Atlantic canary, native to the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands.
The species name comes from ‘serin’, the French word for a canary. It’s pronounced ‘seh-rin’.
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The Bullfinch is an unobtrusive but beautiful woodland bird, and an occasional garden visitor.
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