Above: more variegated than the cock, [the hen] sports a strong dark moustachial stripe, as well as broad soft dark streaking on her underparts.

In the first of two articles on greenfinches, native bird expert BERNARD HOWLETT introduces this popular British species and explains the wonderful variety that’s the basis of its success.

Our familiar greenfinch has recently changed its scientific name. Formerly it was called Carduelis chloris, and inhabited the same genus as British finches including the siskin, linnet and redpoll.

Scientific work published in 2011, however, declared it deserved a more exclusive niche, and erected the genus Chloris for our greenie plus four allied species found in south and east Asia. Chloris chloris it duly became, and the group’s closest relatives are no longer considered to be linnets and the like, but the New World house finches on the one hand, and on the other the sleek desert finch (Rhodospiza obsoleta) of the Old World, which is occasionally known in aviculture.

The European greenfinch is primarily a western European species. It has been introduced to several other parts of the world, including Australia where it is well distributed over the settled areas of southern and south eastern parts of that country. It varies in length depending on its natural location from 14.5-16cm (53/4-61/4in). Strongly built with distinctive green attire and familiar call, it is well known as a bird of hedgerows, gardens, parks, orchards and young conifer woods. In autumn and winter it will forage with other finches in open fields, but will remain apart from them when roosting.

The male is distinctive in a variety of greens, somewhat overshadowed with pale grey, and with striking yellow feathers in the wings and tall, which are very noticeable in flight. He has a rasping call and a slow-winged display flight. The female has similar attire but is more dully coloured. The yellow in wings and tail are less pronounced.

The greenfinch’s song may be heard as early as January, though nesting begins in April. Throughout early spring the male will utter his rasping call and perform his display, showing off the yellow in his wings and tail to emphasise his territory.

The nest is built mostly by the female and consists of a cup of grasses and mosses lined with hair and roots. This is placed in the fork of a tree or bush. Four to six eggs are laid to make up the clutch, sometimes three to eight. These are light blue spotted with black and are incubated by the female for 12-14 days. Chicks are fed on regurgitated food by both parents for 13-16 days. The greenfinch is usually double brooded but at times a third brood is undertaken.

Greenfinches consume the seeds of weeds, as well as cereals, fruit and berries. Some insects and spiders are also taken and given to the young.

In Britain and Ireland the greenfinch is largely resident, although some long distance movements occur in harsh weather. A small number of birds from the near Continent may arrive here during the winter months.

It is very popular among breeders and exhibitors alike in this country and around Europe, with a particular hotspot in Malta. British breeders have supplied quite a few of the birds there. Numbers on the show bench are larger than any other species staged in the British section at shows in this country.

Normal show birds differ enormously from stud to stud. Many are very large specimens, while some are more streamlined than others. The colour of the normal bird also varies from those displaying a grey tinge to much greener birds, which creates discussion topics for fanciers and a dilemma to judges. Colour variants have come a long way from those early national days with many more mutations available.

Medicines are now available to avail medical conditions in all types of birds, especially greenfinches. Although there is some decline in birdkeeping in this country, the greenfinch and its breeders will, I am sure, go on from strength to strength.

Bernard Howlett has more than 50 years’ bird-keeping experience and has won numerous awards with his native birds.

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