14 Species of Finches in the UK (With Pictures)

14 Species of Finches in the UK (With Pictures)

The UK is home to 14 species of finches, with some species living all over the UK while others are limited to certain regions. In the past, especially in Victorian times, finches used to be kept as cage birds in large numbers and were often crossed with canaries. The result was a pretty bird with a great singing voice.

Today, some people still breed and keep captive finches, but it’s a crime to capture finches in the wild and sell them, and other bird species are far more popular than pets these days.

This article introduces the 14 finch species you can see in the UK. Keep in mind that the lifespan mentioned here is the average lifespan for birds in the wild. Some finches have lived much longer, especially in captivity, because captive birds don’t have to worry about predators and a lack of food and clean water.

1. Chaffinch

  • Scientific Name: Fringilla coelebs
  • Lifespan: 3 years
  • Size: 14.5cm (5.71 inches)
  • Weight: 18-29g (0.6-1.0 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 24.5-28.5cm (9.65-11.22 inches)
  • Population: Stable
  • Status: Green

There are millions of Chaffinches in the UK, making them one of the most common birds in the UK. Male chaffinches have orange cheeks and an orange breast with a gray head.

Chaffinch

They have white bars on the wings and display a silver beak during summer. Conversely, females are mainly brown (but also have white bars on their wings).

They mainly eat seeds, fruit (mainly berries), and small insects (particularly during breeding).

2. Bullfinch

  • Scientific Name: Pyrrhula pyrrhula
  • Lifespan: 2 years
  • Size: 16cm (6.3 inches)
  • Weight: 21g (0.74 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 26cm (10.24 inches)
  • Population: Stable
  • Status: Amber

Bullfinches, especially the male ones, are finch with a spectacular red coloring of the body, starkly contrasting the bird’s gray and black head and wings. Bullfinches have a pretty short beak, and females are brown instead of red.

Bullfinch

These finches were once so numerous in the UK that they were seen as a pest. Henry VIII even called them “criminals” because they loved the fruit from his orchards. Today, there are still large numbers of Bullfinches in the UK, but they are locally declining in numbers.

Unlike other finches, Bullfinches aren’t mainly into seeds but prefer to feast on the buds of fruit trees. They also eat tree shoots and flowers.

3. Brambling

  • Scientific Name: Fringilla montifringilla
  • Lifespan: 2 to 5 years
  • Size: 14-17 cm(5.5-6.7 inches)
  • Weight: 20-25 grams (0.7-0.9 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 24-27 cm (9.4-10.6 inches)
  • Population: Stable
  • Status: Green

Bramblings are pretty finches with gray-blue heads and warm orange breasts. Their dark wings have an orange bar, while their belly and rump are white. Males are brighter than females who have a brown head.

Brambling

While these finches aren’t uncommon in the UK, they are visitors from Scandinavia and don’t breed in the UK (though this sometimes happens).

4. Crossbill

  • Scientific Name: Loxia curvirostra
  • Lifespan: 2-3 years
  • Size: 16-18 cm (6.3-7.1 inches)
  • Weight: 36-66 grams (1.27-2.33 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 25-30 cm (9.8-11.8 inches)
  • Population: Stable
  • Status: Green

Crossbills get their name because of their beaks’ shape. What you’d see as a disadvantage and problem for other birds is vital for these finches. The crossed beaks are ideal to get to the seeds in conifer cones, which is one of the main foods for Crossbills.

Crossbill

There’s a distinct difference between the looks of the male and females. Males are red, and females come in shades of green and brown. Both are chunky compared to other finches, and you’ll usually find them in larger groups that can become pretty noisy. You’ll often hear them before you see them.

5. Scottish Crossbill

  • Scientific Name: Loxia scotica
  • Lifespan: 2-3 years
  • Size: 14-16 cm (5.5-6.3 inches)
  • Weight: 32-48 grams (1.13-1.69 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 24-27 cm (9.4-10.6 inches)
  • Population: Small, estimated at several thousand
  • Status: Amber listed

Like the common Crossbill, the Scottish Crossbill is chunky compared to other finches. For the common birdwatcher, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between the Scottish Crossbill and other Crossbills.

The special thing about the Scottish Crossbill is that it is the only bird that’s ENDEMIC to the UK. This means you can’t find this bird anywhere else in the world.

Scottish Crossbill

You’re not very likely to see the Scottish Crossbill as this species can only be found in some parts of North-East Scotland. Pine seeds are the main diet for the Scottish Crossbill.

6. Parrot Crossbill

  • Scientific Name: Loxia pytyopsittacus
  • Lifespan: 2-3 years
  • Size: 18-20 cm (7.1-7.9 inches)
  • Weight: 38-54 grams (1.34-1.9 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 29-33 cm (11.4-13 inches)
  • Population: Occasional vagrant, small local population in Scotland
  • Status: Not assessed

Parrot Crossbills are pretty large compared to other finches and quite sturdy. They’re similar to the other two Crossbill species in the UK, but if you listen closely, you can tell them apart because Parrot Crossbills sing in a deeper voice.

Parrot Crossbill

The Parrot Crossbill is an even rarer sight than the Scottish Crossbill because it only visits the UK occasionally, and there’s only a small residential population (a small number of Parrot Crossbills thought a part of the Scottish Highlands was a great breeding location).

They love pine seeds but will also eat insects. They occasionally leave Europe to visit the UK because they love pine seeds, and there’s sometimes a shortage in European countries.

7. Twite

  • Scientific Name: Linaria flavirostris
  • Lifespan: 2-4 years
  • Size: 12-13 cm (4.7-5.1 inches)
  • Weight: 11-20 grams (0.39-0.71 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 20-22 cm (7.9-8.7 inches)
  • Population: Declining in some areas
  • Status: Red listed

The Twite is a finch with a short tail and a stubby beak. It’s fairly similar to the Linnet (see below). These finches are brown with darker streaks on the wings and the body. Males have a pinkish rump, while females display a brown rump.

Twite

Twites mainly eat seeds all year round.

8. Linnet (Housefinch)

  • Scientific Name: Linaria cannabina
  • Lifespan: 2-8 years
  • Size: 13-14 cm (5.1-5.5 inches)
  • Weight: 18-25 grams (0.63-0.88 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 20-25 cm (7.9-9.8 inches)
  • Population: Stable, but slightly declining
  • Status: Red listed

While the Twite and Linnet are closely related, it’s easy to tell the difference: The Linnet is slimmer, has a longer tail, a less stubby beak, and a tad more colorful. Males have a red spot on their forehead and a red chest. As usual in the bird world, females are a little less colorful than males and more brown than red.

Linnet (Housefinch)

Between 1970 and 2014, over half of the Linnet population disappeared from the UK. While numbers are declining, there’s still a fairly healthy overall population. Like all finches, Linnets like seeds but won’t say no to small insects.

9. Siskin

  • Scientific Name: Carduelis spinus
  • Lifespan: 2 years
  • Size: 12-14 cm (4.7-5.5 inches)
  • Weight: 11-18 grams (0.39-0.63 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 20-24 cm (7.9-9.4 inches)
  • Population: Stable and widespread
  • Status: Green

The Siskin, not to be confused with the Greenfinch (see below), is a small finch with a forked tail and a comparably narrow bill.

Siskin

Siskins have a yellow-green body (streaked) with a black crown and black streaks on the wings and some on the body. Siskins love seeds, especially from conifers, alders, and birch. They also eat some insects.

10. Greenfinch

  • Scientific Name: Chloris chloris
  • Lifespan: 2 years
  • Size: 15 cm (5.9 inches)
  • Weight: 20-32 grams (0.71-1.13 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 25-29 cm (9.8-11.4 inches)
  • Population: Declining, especially in urban areas
  • Status: Red listed

Greenfinches are bigger than Siskins and don’t have a streaked body or wings. The males are yellow-green, while the females have some more cream and brown in their feathers. Greenfinches have some bright yellow wing feathers.

The Greenfinch is an interesting finch regarding its UK population. There was a massive decline in the 1970s and 1980s, followed by a huge increase in the 1990s. These days, these lively finches are sadly in decline again, but the UK population is still well over a million strong. Greenfinches dine on seeds and insects. Sunflower seeds are a favorite.

11. Lesser Redpoll

  • Scientific Name: Acanthis cabaret
  • Lifespan: 2 years
  • Size: 11-12 cm (4.3-4.7 inches)
  • Weight: 10-17 grams (0.35-0.6 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 18-21 cm (7.1-8.3 inches)
  • Population: Stable
  • Status: Green

In the past, the Lesser Redpoll was seen as a subspecies of the Common Redpoll (see below). It’s not a surprise because these two species have much in common: from the red dot on the head to the (sometimes) red chest, they are very similar.

The Lesser Redpoll is shorter, though. This tiny bird has a short tail, and its underparts are darker than the Common Redpoll’s.

Lesser Redpoll

These finches are funny to watch as you’ll often see them hanging upside down to access their favorite foods (birch and alder seeds). In addition to seeds, they enjoy willowherb and sorrel and won’t say no to what people put into bird feeders.

12. Common Redpoll (also Mealy Redpoll)

  • Scientific Name: Acanthis flammea
  • Lifespan: 2-9 years
  • Size: 12-14 cm (4.7-5.5 inches)
  • Weight: 14-20 grams (0.49-0.71 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 22-25 cm (8.7-9.8 inches)
  • Population: Occasional vagrant
  • Status: Amber

The Common Redpoll is larger than the Lesser Redpoll. It’s also a little paler but has a distinct red dot on the head. You can only see the Common Redpoll in the UK during winter.

Common Redpoll

These finches love dining on seeds from birches, alders, and spruce trees. Insects are on the menu as well.

13. Hawfinch

  • Scientific Name: Coccothraustes coccothraustes
  • Lifespan: 2-5 years
  • Size: 16-18 cm (6.3-7.1 inches)
  • Weight: 46-70 grams (1.62-2.47 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 29-33 cm (11.4-13 inches)
  • Population: Declining in most areas
  • Status: Red listed

The Hawfinch is a peculiar-looking finch with a sizable beak. It’s also the biggest finch you can find in the UK, but surprisingly, they’re also often the finch species people don’t often see as Hawfinches blend into their environment nicely.

Hawfinch

You could call them the introverts of the finch world. They don’t want to be seen. Sadly, a decline in their numbers is another reason you don’t often see these finches who enjoy munching on seeds, buds, and shoots.

14. Goldfinch

  • Scientific Name: Carduelis carduelis
  • Lifespan: 2 years
  • Size: 12-13 cm (4.7-5.1 inches)
  • Weight: 14-18 grams (0.49-0.63 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 21-25 cm (8.3-9.8 inches)
  • Population: Stable and widespread
  • Status: Green

The UK Goldfinch looks nothing like the American Goldfinch (which is very yellow, which suits the name). The UK Goldfinch has a big red dot as the front part of its face, followed by a partial circle of white, with some black on the top of its head.

Goldfinch

Its wings are black with a bright yellow middle part, while the rest of the body is brown, cream-colored, and white.

It’s one of the most common finches in the UK. Its thin beak makes it easy for this bird to access seeds. They’re also not shy and will visit bird feeders frequently.

Conclusion

The UK has many Finch species, from tiny to chunky, shy and hidden to colorful and noisy. These little birds have played a significant role in the country’s natural history and continue captivating birdwatchers. They’re fortunately not forced into captivity as much as in the past, as it’s a crime to capture wild finches.

Finches have faced challenges over the years (and still do). While some finch species are stable and show no signs of decline, some are endangered and rarely seen. Like all birds, finches play a critical role in maintaining the delicate balance of the UK ecosystem, which is sadly not in the best of states, thanks to human interference.

Finches do better than other small birds in the UK (e.g., the sparrow), but unless some things change, finch populations will likely decline, with some facing potential extinction.

Join the discussion

11 comments
  • Your picture of a ‘Linnet’ is actually of a Mexican House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus).
    Also there’s no mention of the European Serin (Serinus serinus) which is present in southern England.

    • Thank you Phil, They are similar, but the Mexican House Finch has much more red and also a nicer red, I think. But the Linnet is also called house finch in the UK. Different, but very, very similar. I have changed the photo on the one that was definitely taken in the UK by UK photographer. I looked up the European Serin but apparently there are only ever one or two breeding pairs in the UK and there’s not even a conservation status for them, so I am not sure, if they should be included.

  • We have been feeding gold finches for years very often 6 on the feeder and more waiting in the tree

  • Love. To. See. All. The. Wonderful. Finches. I. Love. All. Are. Feathered. Friends. We. Have. A. Good. Population. Of. House. Sparrows. They. Entertain. Us. On. A. Feeding. Station

  • My Surname is Finch, it’s actually quite a rare Surname despite the common name for birds. If I say my name and someone asks me if I said French then I say No, it’s Finch as in the Goldfinch lol.

  • When I think back to the 1970 finches were so common especially even the Linnet .
    My passion is raptors but I love all birds. When you say 70% of all our countryside birds have disappeared it’s very sad to hear. One off my local farms used to have thousands of skylarks over winter , now I’m lucky to see a mere dozen.