The Brambling is like an exotic version of a Chaffinch and is sometimes called the 'northern Chaffinch' as they resemble each other in many ways. The Brambling is a winter visitor arriving in September from northern Europe, especially Scandinavia, and forming large flocks where there is lots of food. Another band of Norsemen that come here to nick our nuts. They have returned to their summer breeding grounds by the end of March. Only a handful have ever been known to stay.

The Brambling has a black head, orange breast and shoulders, white belly, and a white wing bar. They have a stubby, yellow seed-cracking bill in winter. The female is less colourful than the male with orange shoulders and a grey nape patch. In flight, their white rump and white wing bar are clearly visible against their black forked tail. The flight call is a rising nasal "tchwee" and stands out from other finch calls. The Brambling's song is rarely heard here.

Bramblings feed on seeds, especially beech mast. They feed on the ground and may be seen on farmland, country parks and occasionally gardens. In summer they switch their diet to eating insects like beetles and caterpillars that are found in trees and bushes.

They build a cup-shaped untidy nest of moss and lichen against a tree trunk or in a fork. It is lined with hair and feathers. The 5 to 7 eggs hatch after 11 days and the young can fly 13 days later.

The winter population varies from 50,000 to 2 million and they can be found in most parts of Britain. Less than eight have been known to stay and breed here. The oldest ringed Brambling lived for 14 years. They have gone through a moderate population decline in the last 30 years, but the number of birds is still huge and is estimated to be up to 66 million in Europe alone. When conditions are right, Bramblings can gather in staggering numbers. In January 2019, a mega flock of around five million Bramblings was recorded in Slovenia.

Their Latin name is 'fringilla montifringilla' where 'montifringilla' is derived from the Latin 'montis' for mountain and 'fringilla' for finch. The English name is probably derived from Common West Germanic 'brama' meaning bramble or a thorny bush. They have also been called the cock o' the north and, unsurprisingly, the mountain finch.


Siskins love conifer forests, especially the ones in Northern Scotland. They are a high-viz bird, like the Yellowhammer and Yellow Wagtail, with a distinctive black stripe on their heads to make it easy to tell them apart.

Siskins are a tiny, slender finch, smaller than a Greenfinch. They are a streaky yellowish green with a short, distinctly forked tail that has yellow edges. They have a yellow rump and yellow wing bars. The male has a black bib and crown. The female is greyer and more streaked than the male. Their flight is light and bouncy. They have several calls: a loud "tsuu!", a ringing "tszing", and a sweet twittering that ends with a wheeze like a Greenfinch. Who could not like the Siskin?

They eat pine, birch, and alder seeds and, at a push, will enjoy peanuts from a bird feeder. They feed near the tops of trees and are very agile, hanging on the thinnest of twigs to reach their food. They will also eat insects in the summer for a bit of added protein.

Siskins will nest in early spring somewhere there is a good crop of spruce seeds. If these are in short supply, they will delay nesting until May. The female builds a cup-shaped nest from conifer twigs, grass, heather and moss. She lays 3-5 eggs, which she incubates until they hatch 12 days later. Both mum and dad will feed the youngsters who can fly after 13 days. There are usually 2 broods.

They are a common resident with 400,000 pairs in Britain, though more concentrated in Scotland where there are lots of conifer forests. They can form large flocks in winter. They can be seen in the rest of the Britain as a winter visitor when northern birds move south and others come over from Europe. The planting of commercial conifer forests has certainly helped the Siskin.

Their Latin name is 'carduelis spinus' where 'spinus' is from the Ancient Greek 'spinos', a name for a now-unidentifiable bird, and 'carduelis' is Latin for 'goldfinch'. This makes it an unidentified bird a bit like a Goldfinch (which it is not). Some scientists need glasses. The English name is derived from the German 'sisschen' or 'zeischen' which was their name for the bird.


The Linnet is another poor bird that has suffered dreadfully at the hands of the dastardly Victorians, who liked to put them in cages. Thankfully, they are now protected. The countryside is the true home for the Linnet. They are widespread but incredibly hard to see as they are nervous of people (who can blame them) and will fly off before you are within 100 metres. 

Linnets are smaller than a sparrow with a longish looking forked tail and short bill. The male has a chestnut back, crimson patches on his breast (like he has spilt tomato ketchup down his shirt), and a crimson forehead on a grey head. There is a characteristic light spot on each cheek and small silver flashes along the wings. The female is more streaked and lacks the crimson marks (as she is less of a messy eater). After moulting during July to October, the male looks more like the female. The Linnet's call sounds like a furniture mover saying, "to me, to you" mixed with some electric, buzzing notes. Their flight call is a clipped "ti-dit".

They eat weed seeds and plants like fat-hen, dandelion, chickweed, buttercup and oilseed rape. Linnets will join flocks of other seed-eaters, such as Chaffinches, Bramblings, and Greenfinches, when seeds are plentiful.

Linnets nest from April, usually in a group with other Linnets. The female builds the nest of twigs, roots and moss in dense cover like a hedge. She incubates the 4-6 eggs on her own, which hatch after 11 days. The male being too busy getting the ketchup stains off his shirt. Both parents feed the chicks. The youngsters can fly after 11 days, which is pretty quick, and it leaves time for them to have 2 or 3 broods. Out of the breeding season, Linnets can form large roosts with other finches.

They are partially migratory with some British birds moving south to Spain for tapas in some years and not in others, while other Linnets from Northern Europe migrate here. There are about 500,000 pairs in Britain. Linnet numbers have fallen recently and they are on the conservation 'Red List'. This is thought to be due to changes in farming and the use of herbicides, reducing the amount of weeds for them to feed on.

Their Latin name is 'linaria cannabina' where 'linaria' is the Latin for a linen-weaver, from 'linum' for 'flax' and 'cannabina' for 'hemp'. Aptly named after their love of weed seeds. The English name has a similar root, being derived from the Old French 'linette' for 'flax'.


He is the Scarlet Pimpernel with his pink breast and secretive nature. "They seek him here, they seek him there, they seek the finchy everywhere!". They can be found in thick bushes, orchards, and occasionally in gardens. You are most likely to see him flashing his white bum as he flies away to hide.

The Bullfinch is a plump bird with a short, neat, powerful black bill. The tail, wings and head are black though with a distinctive white rump. The male has a pinkish red breast (which could be why he is so shy) and the female has a browny-grey breast. There is a pale bar on their wings.

They have a very soft, "peu, peu" call that is seldom heard. Even rarer is their 'squeaky bicycle song' which consists of a string of simple notes that sound like a distant squeaky bicycle being wheeled slowly along.

The Bullfinch's main food is tree and fruit buds. They love ash tree buds in winter and fruit tree buds in spring, which they can snaffle at a rate of 30 a minute! They also eat small snails, which they can crack open with their powerful beaks. They are seldom seen feeding far from cover and normally feed directly off plants and, if you are really lucky, your bird feeder. This love of fruit buds is their downfall as it makes them very unpopular with farmers and gardeners. Some people consider the Bullfinch a pest. In the 16th century, Henry VIII condemned the Bullfinches eating of fruit on trees as a 'criminal act', and an Act of Parliament declared that one penny would be paid for every bullfinch trapped and killed!

Bullfinches are usually seen in pairs or family groups, not in flocks. They build their nest in a big, thick bush in May. It is made of twigs, moss and lichen. They lay up to 6 eggs which hatch after 12 days. The young can fly after 15 days but are fed by mum and dad for a further 20 days. Food is carried to the young in pouches in the bottom of the Bullfinch's mouth. There are two and sometimes three broods with parenthood finishing in July when they start to moult (change their feathers). Unlike a lot of birds, they stay the same colour, not changing to a duller winter coat.

The Bullfinch is mainly a local resident but can travel up to 28 kilometres to find a mate in the breeding season - or a juicier orchard. There are 200,000 pairs thinly distributed throughout Britain. Sadly, there has been a rapid decline in numbers over the last 25 years as there are now fewer orchards and suitably thick hedges. Their Latin name is 'pyrrhula pyrrhula' which is derived from Greek and means 'flame coloured' because of their pink breast which is why they hide in shame.


The male Greenfinch lives up to his name. Chunky looking with a large head and olive-green body. They are similar in size to a House Sparrow, like most of the finches. The wings are greeny brown with a yellow streak and there is also yellow on the edge of their forked tail. The female is duller but with the same yellow on the wings. In flight, the yellow on the wings is a dead giveaway.

The Greenfinch sings very wheezily, mainly from March to July, ending his phrases with a long "wheeeeeeeze" on account of smoking too much.

Greenfinches are usually seen feeding in small groups. In winter, they will form larger groups with other finches and sparrows for a fag and gas. The Greenfinch's large bill allows it to open seeds of various sizes, including peanuts from garden bird feeders. They are the king of seeds and will even take seeds from a farmer's cereal crop, yew trees, hornbeams, rose hips and brambles - they are such seed fanatics.

Greenfinches build a bulky nest in a thick shrub made of twigs, moss, and grass which is lined with wool and other soft material. They lay up to 6 eggs that hatch after 14 days. The young leave the nest after 15 days which allows them to easily fit in two broods if not three.

Once a common garden finch, their numbers have fallen since 2005 because of respiratory disease trichomonosis but are now stabilising (see what smoking does to you). They love places with trees and bushes. Churchyards are good. There are 530,000 in Britain. Over recent years, Greenfinches have moved more from farmland into towns, mainly because modern farm machinery does not leave many seeds on the ground for them to eat. There are no Greenfinches in the Scottish Highlands as it is too cold and they don't like whiskey with their cigarettes. There are more Greenfinches in the east and southeast as from there they can pop over the Channel for some handy duty free. Their Latin name is ’chloris chloris’ which means 'green green' (the same source for the word chlorophyll which is the colour in leaves and means 'green leaf').


The cricket player of the finches. His song sounds like a bowler running up and then releasing the ball, a series of descending notes with a “ker-pow” at the end which he sings loudly from early spring just to remind the girls what a good cricket player he is. He stops singing around the end of June as the school cricket season finishes. The Chaffinch also has a ‘rain’ call which consists of one “zreep” note repeated once a second for many minutes, just to let you know he is feeling pretty miserable in the wet. The monotony and boredom in this song really stands out.

The Chaffinch is similar in size to a House Sparrow, blue-grey above and salmon pink below with pink cheeks, a white shoulder patch and a white wing stripe. The tail is long-ish with white outer feathers. All the white makes him easy to see when flying away from you and makes the Chaffinch easy to tell apart from the tits. The female Chaffinch is a lot browner and not half as flashy.

They form finch bands in winter with other finches - and sparrows! These flocks are often single sex, as who wants to talk to girls about cricket.

Chaffinches are big seed eaters, though partial to a juicy caterpillar or beech mast (a fancy name for beech tree seeds) when there are lots to go around. Generally it feeds on the ground, but can manage a bird feeder if pushed. They also enjoy picking the ground at a good picnic site or in pub gardens.

The Chaffinch builds a lovely cup-shaped nest in the fork of a tree that has an outer layer of lichen and spiders' webs and an inner layer of moss and grass lined with feathers. About 4 eggs are laid in May. The female alone incubates the eggs as the male is too busy playing cricket. The eggs hatch after 14 days and both parents feed them for a further 3 weeks while teaching them how to bat.

Abundant and very widespread, there are about 6 million Chaffinches. The British Chaffinches generally stay put, but their Scandinavian cousins pop over in the winter for a good chat and boost the numbers further. Their Latin name is ‘fringilla coelebs’ which isn’t frilly celebrity but ‘finch unmarried’ which is what happens if you play too much cricket and flock with the boys.


A small distinctive finch with a red face, white cheeks, a black crown, sandy brown body, and a white belly. The black wings have broad yellow bands (which makes them easy to identify even when flying). The tail is deeply notched. The bill is more pointed than other finches. The male generally has more red on his face than a female, being a man about farmland.

Usually seen in small groups (called ‘charms’) marauding along the fields and hedgerows. Their call is a liquid tinkling and sounds a bit like “Tickle-it” or “Bubbly-bubbly-bubbly-bubbly” - as champagne fits in with their swanky style. They often sing together when having a rowdy party.

The Goldfinch feeds on tall seed heads and, like Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh, is very partial to thistles. Teasels, dandelions, burdocks, groundsels, and ragworts come a close second. They only eat insects as a summer treat.

They build their tidy nests towards the end of a branch and lay about 6 eggs which hatch after 11 days. The young fly after 13 days. The young are fed for 1 more week before being booted out. These guys love child rearing, having 2 and often 3 broods (the advantage of a short time to hatch and the quicker child eviction rate compared to a tit).

The Goldfinch is widespread in the British Isles though absent from mountain areas and moorland - as these are rubbish for throwing a party. There are about 300 thousand in the summer, but this number drops in winter as many nip over to live it up with their continental mates.

In the bad old Victorian days, Goldfinches were a popular caged bird because they were so pretty and made lots of noise.

They started with the Latin name ‘fringilla carduelis’ which is ‘finch thistle’ but this later got changed to ‘carduelis carduelis’ (‘thistle thistle’) as they like thistles so much.