Image courtesy of Karlj CC BY-SA 3.0 License.



The Greenfinch Chloris chloris { from the Greek khloros =green} belongs to the Passeriformes order of birds {perching birds}, and the family within that order known as the Fringillidae. In the UK it is on the Green list of conservation concern { no current concerns} where it is classed as a resident breeder and winter visitor. There are an estimated 1.7 million pairs in the summer. {source BTO}

In Europe there are no current conservation concerns with an estimated population of between 13-30 million breeding pairs during the summer. Populations differ according to country,- here are a few examples. In Austria there is an estimated 110.000-220,000 breeding pairs, Belgium 40,000-80,000 breeding pairs, Croatia,500,000-1 million breeding pairs.  France, 1,500,000-6,000,000 breeding pairs, Germany,1,500,000-3 million breeding pairs, Spain,1,100,000-3,600,000 and Ukraine 640,000-820,000 breeding pairs. { source Birdlife}.

They breed in Europe ,the Near East and North Africa. They frequent open woodlands ,farmland and gardens. the Gaelic name for the Green Finch is Glaisen-daraich, the Welsh, Llnos Werdd and the Irish Glasan darach.

Here we look at this species, its lifestyle and breeding habits along with historical observations from past ornithologists and other eminent writers. As always we commence with a description of the subject under review.

Greenfinch and habitat. Richard Crossley ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

 Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland Richard Crossley


This finch varies greatly in the degree of brilliance in its colouring. Those that arrive in the spring to the UK are said to be brighter in plumage than our resident birds. The numbers of resident birds are swollen by the flocks that arrive on our eastern coats during October from overseas.

The overall appearance of the plumage is a yellowish green with more yellow on the forehead and rump.There is a bright yellow leading edge to the wings which are otherwise of a greyish colour. They have a broad yellowish eye stripe.The iris is brown. The sides of the cheeks and face are yellowish green the former being somewhat greyish. The bill is somewhat stout and flesh coloured darker towards the tip.

The underparts are yellowish -green becoming whitish on the abdomen,the flanks have a greyish hue. The legs are a pale flesh colour ,the feet horn brown.The female is slightly duller and has much more brown than the male,however they are difficult to tell apart in the field, especially so in the winter months..

The flight varies according to season. In the spring the male flies with a motion somewhat similar to that of the swallow,and utters the song with gusto whilst on the wing. However, when the exuberance of summer has subsided its flight becomes more modified,and though still quick and strong is quite straight, with a very rapid movement of the wings. When gathered in flocks the birds fly closely together.

Bonhote { Birds of Britain-1907} remarks " Were it not so common,occurring abundantly throughout these islands, the bird would be appreciated as one of our prettiest songsters and by no means unattractive in plumage."


Image courtesy of Martyn Gorman { geography.org.uk} CC BY-SA 2.0 License.geograph.org.uk

General information and historical observations.

During the summer months the Greenfinch is a somewhat skulking bird and chiefly haunts the border of woodlands ,parks and ,shrubberies, gardens and dense hedgerows. In the winter they may be encountered feeding with sparrows ,chaffinches and buntings in the stubble fields ,other farmland and gardens. With the exception of when they are feeding their young their song may be heard. It is bright and shrill and some individuals sing remarkably well. The most familiar song is a long nasal 'dzweeee'. The call note is not dissimilar to the 'pink 'or 'chink.of the Chaffinch.

Because of its somewhat heavy form, it was, in some districts, referred to as the 'Green Chub, it was also known more generally as the Green Linnet ,though totally dissimilar to the sprightly Linnet* both in form and plumage.

Coward {Birds of Cheshire 1907} knew the bird under the scientific name of Ligurinus chloris,states that in the northern districts of the county {the most southerly county in north west England}, where large quantities of garden produce is grown for the Manchester market, the Green Finch is looked upon with disfavour. he goes on to state that " It holds its own ,however, despite of persecution, and no nest is commoner than this bird's in the evergreens and hedgerows. In Dunham Park and other places where it is not molested the Green Finch is sociable in the breeding season."


Meyer 1846, knew the bird as Coccothraustes chloris,who said they could be distinguished from the Family Fringillidae  {Finches} by their large powerful bills, their short tails ,and chubby appearance. Wordsworth wrote the following lines about he Green Finch.----

" Upon yon tuft of hazel-trees,

That twinkle to the gusty breeze,

Behold him perch'd in ectasies,

Yet seeming still to hover;

There when the flutter of his wings,

Upon his back and body flings,

Shadows and summer glimmerings

That cover him all over"


" My dazzled sight the bird deceives,

A brother of the dancing leaves;

Then flits from the cottage eaves,

Pours forth his song in gushes;

As if by that exulting strain;

He mock'd and treated with distain,

The voiceless form he chose to feign,'

While flitting in the bushes"

Greenfinch on the ground.

Image courtesy of Karelj CC BY-SA 3.0 license.


Before wild birds became protected by the law it was common place for them to be kept in captivity in cages and aviaries, or sold for food at markets. They were generally caught by the 'Bird catchers' who made a good living from their job. As it is part of our history I include the following notes on the subject.

Greenfinche's were easily caught in nets or traps, the gullibility of the Greenfinch being remarkable. Butler {1898} reveals that the Greenfinch will pair readily in both cage and aviary with the Canary, and crosses between it and the common brown Linnet in a wild state ,are probably the most frequent and best authenticated of the numberless well known wild hybrids which have been recorded. Butler goes on to say--

" In confinement the Greenfinch breeds as readily as a Canary, and brings up its young much better ,not attempting to pluck them {like that foolish bird}after they have left the nest. It is very pugnacious in the breeding season dashing straight at its opponent like a bull at a gate. One year I had a cock Greenfinch in an aviary with a pair of Canaries, and of course, the Greenfinch fancied it could easily dispose of its slim opponent, and took possession of his wife ;so,with a harsh defiant 'zshweee' it charged blindly at him; the Canary took little apparent notice of the Greenfinch until it was within a foot or two ,then with a graceful little curving flight he alighted on its back, and plucked out a beakful of feathers."

" This movement was successfully repeated every time that the more powerful bird attacked him ;so that at length the blundering bully came to consider that discretion was the better part of valour.

" I found that a pair of Greenfinche's  in an aviary built in an ordinary nest box hung upon the wires ,building and feeding exactly as a Canary would; but not attempting to incubate until the third egg was deposited ;they not only hatched all the eggs, but brought up the family without one failure." I once knew two old ladies who were great breeders of Canaries;on one occasion I called upon them to try and obtain a cock bird for breeding purposes, and, seeing that they had paired a Greenfinch and hen Canary in one of their cages,I asked why they were trying to breed such ugly unremunerative mules. They replied that their stock was getting weak, and they always introduced Greenfinch blood when their birds were falling of in vigour, and then bred out the taint, pairing mules with Canaries. This had been supposed an impossibility; yet   ;it was spoken of as a matter of course. Since then other mules, said to have been bred from hybrids, paired with either parent stock,have been exhibited at the Crystal Palace".{London} 





The nest of the Greenfinch is very frequently encountered in a thick hawthorn hedge about five feet from the ground,or in clumps of gorse bushes. Or sometimes in ivy on walls or in the forks of low trees,usually a spruce or yew.

The nest itself is typical of the kind made by finches in general but compares unfavourably in respect of construction with that of the Chaffinch, being made of twigs and roots mixed with moss and wool and rather untidy on the outside,though the lining of wool.feathers,grass or hair is neatly arranged.Several nests may be found by each other for this species shows a tendency to nest in colonies in some localities. Butler,remarks that he found three nests in a hawthorn hedge within a distance of three yards,two of these being only a foot apart. All three were at a height of about five feet from the ground.

Frank Finn in his book 'Eggs and Nests of British Birds' makes this observation," They may nest close together.This is sufficiently remarkable for it is not by any means peaceable,and I have seen it fighting vigorously both with its own kind and with the House sparrow. In the former case a bird with a bald patch on its head,evidently a legacy from a previous combat,disturbed a mated pair.;but the hen left the two cocks to settle matters,while she went on collecting nesting material."

The eggs like those of the chaffinch number four to five. They have a pale greenish ground colour spotted with reddish brown.They may also be comma shaped markings. Most of the markings are confined to the large end. They are incubated by the female for a period of about fourteen days. The young are fed a nutritious diet of invertebrates and their larvae and are ready to leave the nest in a further couple of weeks.

Meyer {1846} remarks about the nest of a Greenfinch-" In the spring of 1824,says a friend {The Rev E.J. Moor}, a pair of Green Linnets built in the ivy porch of Boulge Cottage. I was one day watching the nest when the young ones were half grown. While I was there the old one came back with some food ,and perched close to the nest.  The young ones immediately set up a great chirping. hitherto I had been quite concealed from the old bird. But the wind moved the ivy leaves  ,her eye and mine met,and the same moment she uttered a quick note, which was scarcely uttered before all the chirping instantly ceased-the young ones perfectly understanding the signal"

Meyer went on to say-" A parallel instance of the watchful care of Greenfinch's for the safety of the young ones, came under our own observation. One day several little nestlings were caught in a field adjoining the garden. They were scarcely fledged, and could not fly. We put them in a small cage, which we placed in a low hedge, bordering the field where they were captured. It was not long before they were discovered by their parents who immediately visited them, and appeared to bring them food. These marks of affection interested us, and fearing that where they were placed, the young nestlings might become prey to prowling cats, we gave them their liberty. The parents however, appeared not yet satisfied respecting the safety of their young ones ,for a short time after they were observed in the act of carrying one of them away. They were bearing it between them at about the elevation of a foot and a half from the ground, and in this manner were seen to carry it about fifty yards, namely, from the spot where the young birds were set at liberty, to the end of the gravel path,when they entered a clump of trees."


In what manner the parents supported the nestling was not very apparent, as the observers did not like to follow to quickly,lest the old birds should relinquish their burden, but form the close vicinity of the time during their flight ,it appeared as though they must have held the nestling by means of their beaks. The other nestlings had apparently been conveyed away in the same manner, as none of them could be found"

It is not possible of course, to prove or disprove, the account of so eminent a writer, but if true it is an amazing fact.

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Nest and eggs of the Greenfinch Courtesy of Schneetlee   CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

Young birds.

The young birds are much like the female but the feathers have more streaks .They acquire the adult plumage after the first moult. However, the colouring does not gain its greatest brilliancy in the first year.

The young on becoming fledged leave the nest together at the slightest imminent danger. One writer on the subject conveys " Many a schoolboy will remember, when, after watching a nest with exemplary patience, he finds the his treasures escape him just when he has made his mind up to possess them."

The parent birds when disturbed upon the nest do not fly very far, but continue around uttering most melancholy lamentations.This exceedingly plaintive note of heir long 'tway' is enough to strike remorse into the heart of the most inveterate bird nester.

During the winter the birds will feed in flocks often with a few Chaffinch's or Linnets among them. When alarmed , they all rise and hurry off to the nearest tree.

Greenfinch in winter plumage

Image courtesy of Thermos. CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

UK Conservation status 2021

UK- Green List-No current concerns.

Europe-Species of least concern. 

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