Greenfinch

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').

Chaffinch

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.

Goldfinch

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.