Linnet © Allan Drewitt/Natural EnglandLook out for the smart chestnut breasts of male Linnets in their summer plumage.
Photo: © Allan Drewitt/Natural England

Scientific name: Carduelis cannabina

Other common names: Common Linnet

Cornish name: Linek rudh

Conservation status: UK Birds of Conservation Concern, Red; UK Biodiversity Action Plan, Priority Species; IUCN Red List, Least Concern

What to look for:

  • Colouring and appearance: Slim and long-tailed, males of this small finch species are brown but with a chestnut breast and forehead in the summer; females and immature birds lack the reddish markings, but both males and females have white-edged tail and wings.
  • Size: Length 14 cm, wingspan 24 cm.
  • Where: Across the UK, but much scarcer in upland regions and the north-west of Scotland. Its habitats include rough open ground with shrubs, heaths, hedgerows, salt marshes, farmland and gardens.
  • Call: A very melodious song
  • Similar species: Lesser Redpoll, Mealy Redpoll, Twite

Linnet © Allan Drewitt/Natural EnglandGo searching in antique shops and you might be lucky enough to find a genuine Victorian birdcage, or you can opt for the reproductions that seem to be popular. What you won’t be doing is keeping a wild songbird in the cage. That would now be illegal, but in Victorian times it was very common to keep a songbird as a pet, and it was the Linnet that was the favourite. Many a parlour would have been filled with its lovely song.

Nowadays we can still hear the song of the Linnet, but outside in the wild where it belongs. Linnets are in trouble, though. Although a widespread species, Linnets have been suffering a serious decline: numbers dropped in the UK by 57% between 1970 and 2008. Agricultural intensification is thought to be one of the main culprits, together with the loss of the scrub and hedges it uses for nesting.

The pretty name Linnet is derived from this small finch’s erstwhile favourite food: flax seeds, otherwise known as linseed, which are now not so commonly grown as a crop. They’ll eat almost 50 species of seed, however.

They nest in groups in the breeding season, laying up to three clutches of four to six eggs between April and August. In winter they will join with other finches such as Twite to form large mixed foraging flocks.

Did you know…?

…In Oscar Wilde’s tale The Selfish Giant it is a Linnet that sings to tell the Giant that spring has at long last returned to his garden.

…The golden fields of oil-seed rape that have become a common sight in the countryside are beneficial to Linnets, who enjoy the oil-rich seeds.

More information and references:

Svensson, L., Mullarney, K., Zetterstrom, D.,1986. Collins Bird Guide, second edition (translated by Christie, D., Svensson, L.). HarperCollins, London.

Published: April 2015
Author: Amanda Scott
Photo: © Allan Drewitt/Natural England