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British finches: an identification guide

Some are garden regulars, and others are elusive woodland dwellers. They also come in a stunning array of bright colours and beak shapes. How many of the UK's finches can you identify? 

Male chaffinch (Photo: Alamy)
Male chaffinch (Photo: Alamy)

Chaffinch
(Fringilla coelebs)

Male: slate grey head, orange cheeks and breast, white wing bars and silver bill in summer

Female: buff brown tones all over with white wing bars 

Juvenile: similar colourings to the female

Found: common across the UK and a regular visitor to gardens

Male greenfinch (Photo: Alamy)
Male greenfinch (Photo: Alamy)

Greenfinch
(Chloris chloris)

Male: yellow-green all over with bright yellow wing and tail edges

Female: dull grey-brown all over with yellow wing and tail edges

Juvenile: similar colours to the female but with a streaky breast and back

Found: common across the UK and a regular garden visitor, although populations have been hit by the disease trichomoniasis 

Male siskin (Photo: Alamy)
Male siskin (Photo: Alamy)

Siskin
(Spinus spinus)

Male: yellow cheeks and breast, delicate bill, black cap and bib, and black and yellow wing bars

Female: duller yellow head and back, black and yellow wing bars and streaky breast and belly

Juvenile: streaky head, back, belly and breast with pale yellow wing bars

Found: prefers conifer woodland but also a visitor to gardens, particularly in years of poor spruce seed crops 

Goldfinch (Photo: Alamy)
Goldfinch (Photo: Alamy)

Goldfinch
(Carduelis carduelis)

Male and female: slender, pale bill; red, white and black face; brown back and breast; and black wings with bright yellow bars

Juvenile: brown and streaky head, back and breast, with black wings and yellow wing bars

Found: common across the UK and a regular visitor to gardens

Male bullfinch (Photo: Alamy)
Male bullfinch (Photo: Alamy)

Bullfinch
(Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

Male: characteristic thick neck, bright pink breast, slate grey back, black cap and stubby bill, and a bright white rump which is particularly noticeable in flight  

Female: as the male, but with buff brown breast and dull brown back

Juvenile: similar in colour to the female but without the black cap and bill

Found: found in pairs or small groups across the UK in woodland and sometimes large gardens

Female brambling (Photo: Alamy)
Female brambling (Photo: Alamy)

Brambling
(Fringilla montifringilla)

Male: grey-blue head, warm orange breast, white belly and rump, and dark wings with orange bars

Female: much as the male but with duller orange breast and buff brown head

Juvenile: similar to the female although rarely seen in the UK

Found: in varying numbers across the UK in autumn and winter, particularly in beech woodlands in eastern England

Male hawfinch (Photo: Alamy)
Male hawfinch (Photo: Alamy)

Hawfinch
(Coccothraustes coccothraustes)

Male: heavy silver bill with black mask, orange-brown head, grey neck and dark brown back. Wings are blue-black and brown with a white bar  

Female: similar patterning to the male but duller colours

Juvenile: lacks the dark eye mask and has a speckled belly

Found: scarce, preferring hornbeam woodland 

Male lesser redpoll (Photo: Alamy)
Male lesser redpoll (Photo: Alamy)

Lesser redpoll
(Carduelis cabaret)

Male: streaky brown all over with a red forehead, black bib, small yellow bill and sometimes a pinky red breast in summer

Female: similar to the male but without the pink flush to the breast

Juvenile: similar to the female but without the red forehead

Found: mainly in birch or alder woodland

Male linnet (Photo: Alamy)
Male linnet (Photo: Alamy)

Linnet
(Linaria cannabina)

Male: grey head, dark brown back and lighter brown belly with a pinky red forehead and breast 

Female: much duller than the male with a streaky pale belly and breast and lacking any red

Juvenile: similar to the female but with a browner head

Found: widespread across the UK on lowland farmland

Male twite (Photo: Alamy)
Male twite (Photo: Alamy)

Twite
(Carduelis flavirostris)

Male: streaky dark brown all over with a stubby bill, forked tail and pink rump in summer

Female: similar to the male but with a brown rump

Juvenile: similar to the female

Found: breed in the upland areas of Scotland, the Pennines and North Wales, the Scottish islands and coastal parts of Northern Ireland. In winter they can also be found further afield around the eastern and northern coasts of the UK

Male common crossbill (Photo: Alamy)
Male common crossbill (Photo: Alamy)

Common crossbill
(Loxia curvirostra)

Male: rosy red head, breast and belly, dark grey wings and characteristic crossed bill

Female: grey-green head, breast and belly, dark grey wings and crossed bill

Juvenile: grey-brown and streaky all over

Found: conifer woodland across most of the UK, often feeding high in the canopy. The genetically distinct Scottish crossbill (Loxia scottia) is very difficult to tell apart but is found only in the Caledonian pine forests of Scotland. It is also the only bird in the UK to be found here and nowhere else 

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