One of the smaller finches, linnets sport a reddish brown back, with a greyish head and short bill. During the summer, males have distinctive red foreheads and breasts, which is much duller in winter (more pink in colour), and reduced in size. Females lack this red colouration, and instead have a buff-coloured breast and forehead with a streaked back. Both sexes have a pale cheek spot with white sides to their tail and underbelly. The juvenile has a whitish throat and is much more streaked than either adult.
Average Lifespan: 2-3 Years
Average Wingspan: 20-25cm
Linnets feed in small flocks year-round, and feed mainly on seeds, though they do catch insects for their young. They feed on farmland stubbles and weeds, choosing areas that have higher seed densities than other seed-eating birds. More recently they have come to enjoy oil-seed rape seeds that are partially ripe or dandelions, and feed nestlings these seeds as a main part of the diet. Linnets almost never come to garden areas, and so provisioning for them outside of a farmland environment is not beneficial.
Nests are built in vegetation such as hedgerows in farming environments, with linnets not being particularly territorial, instead choosing to forage and nest close with other linnets. The nest is mostly stems, grass and roots, that is lined with hair and feathers.
Linnets produce 2-3 broods a year, laying 4-5 eggs in each clutch starting around April, through to July/August. Just prior to laying of eggs, males protectively guard females to stop other males mating with her by following the female around, spending over 95% of his time with her. During laying, males spend significantly less time guarding, and returns to normal levels after laying has finished. The female incubates the eggs for 2 weeks, before feeding them for a further 2 weeks to get ready for fledging.
One of the major drivers of decline in the linnet is nest failure and a drop in breeding performance. It is believed that this change in performance may be in part due to changes in agricultural practices, and land use changes. The loss of areas of farmland stubble is most detrimental to the linnet, as this is their preferred foraging ground.
If you own farmland, think about leaving over winter stubbles for linnets or some wild bird cover
Provide hedgerows and thick vegetation that border farmland, to give adequate nesting spaces
Provide water year-round to help your local birds.
The common linnet was once a sought after caged bird during Victorian times. Many households coveted the linnet as they were long-lived, easy to train from a chick, and had a beautiful and melodious song which could pick up on songs of other coveted birds easily, such as the nightingale.
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BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Linaria cannabina. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 20/06/2022.
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