EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.
This week, it is smaller finches
This week we are going to look at six types of smaller finch. A couple of them (Goldfinch and Greenfinch) are very familiar garden birds, throughout the year. Linnet is a common bird of the countryside and Twite is its northern upland equivalent. And the little, tit-like Lesser Redpoll is a widespread winter visitor and breeding bird in selected woodlands, as is the siny Siskin. They are all at some stage or in some plumages a bit brown and streaky, so can require a little careful observation to separate.
Pretty much unmistakable (if seen at all well), the Goldfinch can look too exotic to really be a wild British bird! It is has a distinctive crimson and black face, and massive, obvious golden wing flashes. There are more than 300,000 pairs nesting across the UK apart from the far north and north-west of Scotland and the Scottish islands. They are common birds of town and country, being expected birds in many of our gardens. Juveniles lack the face pattern, instead being drab brown of body and face, but with the same bright yellow wing flashes as the adults.
The largest of this bunch of finches (a wee bit smaller than a sparrow), with an angry frown to match its relative size, and quite a robust bill for what is still a small bird. Male Greenfinches really are green finches. Females are duller and browner, but still have greenish tones and both sexes have yellow panels in the wing (much smaller than those of Goldfinch) and outer tail. Juveniles are even browner and streakier. Despite declines due to disease, Greenfinches are still very common birds of town and country, wherever there are trees and bushes.
One of the most overlooked small birds, the Linnet is a much declined but still common bird (430,000 UK pairs). It is slightly smaller than a Greenfinch, with a slighter bill, and a rustier tone to the call. Males are variable, but bright ones have grey heads and brown backs and bright flushes of pink on the breast and forehead. The rump is whitish and there are slight bu t noticeable white flashes in the wing in flight. Females lack the pink tnes and are duller, butcompletley lack green tones and always have a pale chin (see eg Greenfinch and Lesser Redpoll). These are birds of open country, such as farmland with trees and scrub.
The northern, upland equivalent of the Linnet, the Twite is also a winter visitor to localised coastal spots. Duller than the Linnet, with a peachy face and no pink on head or breast. Males can have pink rumps. Twites are named after their twangy, nasal calls.
The little Lesser Redpoll is about as close to a tit as you get among British finches, dangling uside down to eat tiny seeds from birches and Alders. They are small streaked finches with a red forehead and black chin and an obvious transverse pale buff wing bar. Males can have a lovely rosy flush on the breast.
Even smaller than the Lesser Redpoll, the tiny, short-tailed Siskin has a greater preference for conifers, but also feeds on birch and alders in winter. Males are greeny-yellow, black and white, with a black forehead and chin. Females are less yellow/green and are streakier, but still have yellow and green tones including the transverse wing bar, which are absent in Lesser Redpoll.
All photos from Alamy