Gold finch and Chaffinch 

One of the most colourful finches in the U.K. is the goldfinch, a beautiful bird who's tinkling song enhances any locality in which it is encountered. This member of the Passeriformes {perching birds} belongs to the family Carduelidae and breeds across Europe, north Africa and western central Asia, where it tenants open partially wooded lowlands. In days gone by it was often kept as a cage bird.

Description of the Goldfinch.

The plumage is a striking alchemy of red, white, black, yellow and shades of brown. Both sexes are similar with a red face, black and white head and warm brown upper parts. The under parts are white with buff flanks and breast patches and yellow and black wings.

Keen observers may tell the sexes apart by the males slightly darker red face which  extends to just behind the eye. The slightly lighter red face of the female face does not reach the eye. The birds are 12-13 cm long and weigh between 14-19 gms.

In relation to its body size the wings are of a medium length, the tail medium, the neck short  the bill medium short and the legs short. The adult is the only bird in the U.K. with a red face and a yellow wing bar. The whitish rump is conspicuous when the bird is flying away. In the U.K. the birds are resident and remain with us throughout the year. However, there may be some movement from colder districts to more temperate places.

The beautiful Goldfinch

Courtesy of Aconcagua CC BY-SA 3.0 License

Diet and lifestyle.

The main diet of the goldfinch consists of small seeds with a tendency towards thistle seeds when they are available to them. Indeed the birds scientific name Carduus derives from the Latin name for the thistle.The young are fed on invertebrates and during the winter the birds are seen regularly visiting bird feeders and on stubble fields were they take the seeds of arable weeds. They also like the seeds of teasels and the Asteraceae family which includes the dandelion and hawk weeds.

The goldfinch is found throughout Britain with the exception of moorland and mountainous regions. During the 1970s and 1980s the population number of this species dropped quite dramatically and theories were put forward to explain this decline. It is thought that a large contributing factor was the loss of winter stubble fields, thus denying them a main source of weed seeds always abundant in this habitat. In common with many farmland birds they relied heavily on this source of food to see them through the winter months.

However, the birds found a new reliable source of food in the form of bird feeders placed in gardens and at nature reserves and they visit both in ever increasing numbers during the last decade or so, which has helped the species to recover their numbers. So much so in fact that they have now been removed from the Amber list of conservation concern and placed back onto the Green list, which means there are no current conservation concerns for the species. As with all our birds they will continue to be monitored. The latest population numbers from the B.T.O. estimates the number to be 313,000 territories in the breeding season. Goldfinches form small flocks during the winter known as charms. Small groups are regularly seen in garden trees.

Nest and eggs.

The goldfinch generally chooses a tree, especially fruit trees when they are available in their territories however,they may well be few and far between for these birds frequent open weedy places. The nest is cupped shaped and as neat as the dainty builder. It is very similar to the abode made by the chaffinch, but a smaller version. It is well constructed and made of moss and lichen and lined with hair, soft feathers or plant down. The eggs are bluish or greenish white and number 4-5. They have purple brown markings very like those produced by the linnet, but smaller and like them vary greatly in the depth of spotting. They are first found in May.

The eggs are incubated for 13-15 days. The chicks are blind, helpless,and downy when they hatch and are totally reliant on their parents. They stay in the nest for 14-17 days. They have two possibly three broods per season.

The Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs.

This is another beautifully coloured finch especially the male in his breeding attire. The common derives from the old English ceanffine, from ceaf meaning chaff and finne meaning a finch. { chaff derives from the old German keva meaning husk}.

Fringilla alludes to the bird being a small song bird. The species name coelebs means bachelor and alludes to the males forming flocks of their own during winter away from the females.

This species is probably one of our most common and widespread species and is certainly our most numerous finch. Unlike the goldfinch the two sexes are different in appearance and particularly so during the breeding season.

Male chaffinch.

Courtesy of Michael Maggs CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

Female chaffinch

Courtesy of Maksim CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

Description of the Chaffinch.

Both sexes have white on their wings and tail. The males' face and breast are pinkish, mauve, or even brick red. The crown, nape and upper body are grey blue. The rest of the upper parts are darkish green,grey and rich brown. The brighter colours are beneath. The female is slightly smaller than the male and, as is the case with many species of birds, much duller in her plumage colour. This helps to keep her well camouflaged during the nesting season, when much of her time is spent incubating her eggs.

She is a mixture of muted greys,browns, olives and green. The overall appearance is generally a greenish brown. However, when in flight the white on her wings and tail make her recognizable.

In relation to their bodies the wings are small/medium, the neck short, the bill medium/short, the legs short. They walk and hop. The flight is bounding {typical of the finch family}. They can be told at all ages  from all other birds of the same size by the combination of white shoulder patch, white wing bar and white in the tail. The bill of this species is blue in the breeding male and of a conical shape characteristic of seed eaters.

In winter they are often joined by an influx of birds from the continent. They may then form large flocks who roam the countryside in search for food. They are particularly fond of feeding under beech trees at that time of the year. Studies have revealed that if food is scarce local birds will remain but they are not joined by their continental cousins.

Nest and eggs of the Chaffinch

During March the birds will take up their territories and form pairs before the task of nest building commences during April. It takes about 2 weeks to complete. The nest is very characteristic and has been described as a typical example of beautiful avian architecture. It is most commonly encountered in the bough of a tree not far from the ground. But it may also be situated in a shrub or bush. A moss grown tree is preferred particularly old apple trees in gardens.

It is constructed with moss and wool and is very intricately woven together. It is lined with a thick layer of grass, feathers or hair. The xterior is decked with lichen and moss which blends in well with the moss grown environs, however, sometimes this is where the logic ends, for other times the exterior is adorned with cotton wool or even wedding confetti which do not match any natural surroundings.

The eggs are of a peculiar grey colour with brown spots surrounded by a reddish colouring. It gives the illusion that the colour of the spots have run and stained the shell. Studies have revealed that on occasion a less characteristic type is encountered being of a pale blue colour and rarer still a pure blue unspotted eggs are found.

Four {sometimes five} eggs are layed and here in the north of England are first encountered during May, or even June. If conditions are favourable or a replacement clutch is required a second or even third brood may be attempted.

The eggs are incubated for 12-13 days . The young are cared for by both parents for about 2 weeks at the nest, and for a further 3 weeks or so when they leave the nest. The young nestlings require to be fed on invertebrates especially caterpillars before they attain the seed diet of the adults.

There are no current conservation concerns over the chaffinch and in the latest B.T.O. estimated population numbers they stand at 5,974,000 territories. The future looks bright for both these colouful species in the U.K. which is good news for both of them and for those of us who admire our avian flora

According to the BTO Garden Bird Watch survey  {which began in 1995} these two species are doing well as garden birds with the Gold finch doing exceptionally well. In 1995 the chaffinch was recorded  from 69.2% of gardens while in 2011 the figure was 69.2%. The Goldfinch in 1995 was 12.2% while in 2011 the figure had rose dramatically to 57.9%.

Familiar Wild Birds {1800's}

UK conservation status 2021

Both species  UK Green List no current concerns.

Europe-Both species-Species of least concern. 

Reuse of images.

The images on this page may be reused .However, the name of the relevant author must be attributed along with any accompanying license.