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MTM , The Linnet , Carduelis cannabina

The Linnet is a small, slim finch, widely distributed and once popular as a cage bird because of its melodious song.  The adult male’s summer plumage ensures an enticing display to attract a female making him one of the more recognisable members of the finch family. The back of the bird is a plain pale orange brown with dark grey to black upperwings and a dark tail. The head is pale grey with a red forehead and pale cheek patch. The throat is a paler grey still morphing into a pinky red chest and light buff to white belly and undertail coverts. There are white streaks along the feathers of the upper wing and sides of the tail feathers. The rump is a pale orange brown and the short chunky bill is dark grey. The male’s winter plumage is more subdued with a darker brown head and a significant reduction of the pinky colouration to the breast. The female has a tawny buff chest with a white belly and streaked brown upperparts. The head is brown with a pale cheek spot and pale eyebrows.

While widespread across the UK, there are concentrations of linnets along the east coast from Kent to Aberdeenshire, but they are scarce in upland regions and north west Scotland. Look for them on commons, heathland, rough ground, farmland hedges, saltmarshes and in parks and gardens. Linnets have a life expectancy of two to three years.

Linnets breed on heaths and scrubland, in hedgerows and in gardens with bushes. The nest, which is built by the female, is a cup of grass, moss and twigs, lined with hair and wool. The smooth, non-glossy eggs are pale blue with fine purple and brown spots, and about 18 mm by 13 mm. Incubation is by the female only, however the young are fed by both parents.

Linnets feed mainly on small seeds, such as dandelion and oil rape seed, but also on some insects, especially in the summer. In winter, they often form large flocks, sometimes mixed flocks with other seed-eaters, and feed in open country on stubbles, salt-marshes and wasteland.

Linnet numbers have dropped substantially over the past few decades, with the UK population estimated to have declined by 57 per cent between 1970 and 2014. The latest Breeding Bird Survey results show a decrease in all countries. They have now become a species of high conservation concern – a Red Listed species . The most likely cause is changes in farming practices, such as smaller field margins and using herbicides to kill the weeds, which means there are fewer weed seeds, and autumn sowing of crops, which means there is less stubble in winter. As with most wildlife here in the U.K. the Linnet is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

Fact File

  • Length. 14cm
  • Wing span. 21-25cm
  • Weight. 15-20g
  • Breeding pairs. 520,000
  • Life expectancy. 2-3 years


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