LINNET (Linaria cannabina)


Once a common sight, the linnet has declined significantly in the last 50 years in our farmlands and heathland environments. The linnet can be seen year-round in small flocks, swirling in the sky with coordinated movements that are a sight to behold. One of the smaller finches, linnets prefer to feed on the ground in flocks whilst noisily twittering, often choosing the waste areas of farmland to frequent, such as old stubbles.

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Alert Status:

Red - 22% decline ↓

Estimated number of UK breeding

territories: 560,000 (updated 2020)

Listen to linnet song:


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 Length:12.5-14cm

Average Lifespan: 2-3 Years

Average Wingspan: 20-25cm

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Linnet diet

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.

Linnet breeding and nesting information

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.

Threats to linnets

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.

How you can help

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.

Fascinating Fact

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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Bechstein, J. M. (1841). The Natural History of Cage Birds: Their Management, Habits, Food, Diseases, Treatment, Breeding, and the Methods of Catching Them. United Kingdom: W.S. Orr and Company.

Biddle, L.E., Broughton, R.E., Goodman, A.M., Deeming, D.C. (2018) Composition of Bird Nests is a Species-Specific Characteristic. Avian Biology Research. 11(2):

BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Linaria cannabina. Downloaded from on 20/06/2022.  

Drachmann, J., Komdeur, J., Boomsma, J.J. (2000) Mate guarding in the Linnet Carduelis cannabina. Bird Study. 47(2): 238-241

Moorcroft, D., Wilson, J.D. (2000) The ecology of Linnets Carduelis cannabina on lowland farmland. Ecology and conservation of lowland farmland birds. 173-181.

Moorcroft, D., Wilson, J.D., Bradbury, R.B. (2006) Diet of nestling Linnets Carduelis cannabina on lowland farmland before and after agricultural intensification. Bird Study. 53(2): 156-162.

Robinson, R.A. (2005) BirdFacts: profiles of birds occurring in Britain & Ireland. BTO, Thetford (, accessed on 28 March 2022)

Siriwardena , G.M., Crick , H.Q.P., Baillie, S.R.,Wilson, J.D. (2000) Agricultural habitat-type and the breeding performance of granivorous farmland birds in Britain. Bird Study. 47(1): 66-81

Stanbury, A.J., Eaton, M.A., Aebischer, N.J., Balmer, D., Brown, A.F., Douse, A., Lindley, P., McCulloch, N., Noble, D.G., Win, I. (2021) The status of our bird populations: the fifth Birds of Conservation Concern in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man and second IUCN Red List assessment of extinction risk for Great Britain. British Birds. 114

Woodward, I., Aebischer, N., Burnell, D., Eaton, M., Frost, T., Hall, C., Stroud, D. & Noble, D. (2020) Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. British Birds. 113: 69–104.

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