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The common linnet (scientific name Linaria cannabina) is a passerine bird that belongs to the finch family. It was previously in the genus Carduelis, but in 2012 was moved to Linaria. Therefore you may see the bird go by Linaria cannabina and Carduelis cannabina.

The term linnet is also used to refer to two other species of Fringillidae: the American linnet (Carduelis pinus) and the crossbills (Loxia spp.). Although these birds are all similar in shape and size, the linnets belong to a different family than the true finches (such as the chaffinch).

The linnet bird is a very active, lively and curious creature. A widespread summer visitor to Britain, it’s a common breeding species. Linnets are unmistakable birds that breed in colonies on rocky coastal areas or islands. They are gregarious outside that season and often form large flocks.

Linnet Identification

The linnet bird is a small finch-like species. When it comes to its appearance, the slim finch stands out as one of the most colourful around, with its plumage ranging between red and yellow-green.

The male is multicoloured with grey heads, brown upperparts, pink breast, reddish-brown wings and tail and two white wing bars.

Both sexes are similar in appearance, although females tend to be lighter than males and lack the pink patches. Also, the male linnet is slightly larger than the female linnet. Both have mainly brown plumage with a streaked breast, white under tail feathers and pink legs and bill. The male has a yellow ring around the eye and is slightly brighter in colouration than the female between April and July.

Linnet on a flower

How Big Is a Linnet Bird?

  • The linnet size is approximately 7 inches (18 cm) long from beak to tail-tip
  • Height: Approx 16 cm tall, without its rather fluffy crest
  • Wingspan: 22-26 inches
  • Weight: About 48 grams
  • Adult Weight: Approx 24-100 grams

What’s The Difference Between a Redpoll and Linnet?

Many people may easily be confused whether the bird they’re observing is a linnet or redpoll (Acanthis flammea), especially in winter plumage. However, they can be differentiated quite easily; the head stripes and breast streaks of a linnet are paler than those of redpolls. Also, linnets hold their wings almost vertical at rest, where redpolls have more swept-back “tiger” like wings.

Acanthis flammea (common redpoll)
Common Redpoll

Linnet Habitats

The linnet bird prefers to breed in densely wooded areas such as forests that have scattered trees. They spend much of their time collecting food on the ground or perching on bushes and are sometimes seen in rural areas such as parks or even gardens.

Linnets always stay near water either for bathing or drinking purposes and can be spotted at the edge of water sources such as salt marshes, lakes, ponds and even waste ground during summertime. However, it leaves its usual habitat and goes south in winter.

The Common Linnet in natural habitat (Carduelis cannabina)
The common Linnet in its natural habitat

Distribution

The linnet can be found across Europe and Asia; however, they can also be found as far south as Western Africa. In the UK, they are widespread across the east coast all the way up to Scotland. However, they are generally seen at low altitudes as opposed to higher upland regions such as north west Scotland.

Linnet Diet

Linnets are seed eaters, which means that they have to hoard small seeds throughout the year to survive through winter. They mainly feed on linseed as it has high protein content and is probably their favourite food.

However, they also feed on insects during summer, especially when their breeding period ends. The male of this species often feeds on worms to attract females. In particular, they love beetles and caterpillars but also enjoys berries when they are available.

Nesting

Linnets build neat bowl-shaped nests at the end of a branch or stem that hangs over water. It may also build it in gorse bushes, walls, trees with holes and sometimes even abandoned nests of other birds.

Common Linnet baby birds in a nest
Common linnet baby birds in a nest

The Linnet Song

During the breeding season (April through June), linnet males have a beautiful singing voice (or call), giving them their nickname of “turtle dove”. This melodious song enables birds to find each other and attract mates during the breeding season. In spring, they sing from trees but will also sing from bushes or on power lines.

Conservation Status

The linnet bird is an endangered species in the UK because its natural habitats have been replaced by farms and other buildings. They are also unable to compete with house sparrows for nesting spaces due to their smaller size. The conservation status of linnet birds internationally is described as vulnerable, which means there is a possibility that linnets could become extinct.

Male common linnet, linaria cannabina, resting on a plant on meadow in summer at sunset from side view with copy space.
Male common linnet resting on a plant on a meadow in summer

Threats and Conservation Efforts

A number of steps have been taken to protect the linnet from extinction; however, overgrazing has created a negative impact on wild flax flowers, which has put them at risk. Due to the fact that they nest in holes within trees or buildings, these birds have started taking residence in man-made structures such as houses.

Sources and References

  1. Linnet (Carduelis Cannabina) – gwct.org.uk
  2. Linnet – birdfact.com

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