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Twite { Birds of Europe }

Updated on August 9, 2015

Twite. Carduelis flavirostris-Female

Druridge Bay Northumberland {North East England}
Druridge Bay Northumberland {North East England} | Source


The Twite belongs to the order of birds known as the Passerifomes { perching birds} and the family Carduelidae within that order. The genus name Linaria derives from Latin linarius indicating a weaver. The bird is in some books are placed with the genus Carduleis. The specific name of flavirostris derives from Latin flav=yellow+ rostris =bill.

In the UK it is placed on the Red list of conservation concern {declines of in population/distribution of 50% or over during the last forty years or so.},as such there is a species action plan being implemented on their behalf which aims to halt and reverse the decline, under the UK Biodiversity Heritage Plan { BAP}. There is an estimated 10,000 pairs in the UK during summer.{ Source BTO}

In Ireland they are also Red Listed. The total European population is estimated at between 170,000-760,000 pairs. In Europe they are currently regarded as being secure. Populations vary from country to country here are a few selected examples. Amenia 20,-30,000 Breeding pairs {BP}. Finland 10 BP. Republic of Ireland 250-1,000 BP. Norway 100-500,000 BP. Russia 2,000-5,000 BP. Sweden 10-100 BP. Turkey 40,000-200,00 BP. { source Birldlife}

The birds breed locally in Eurasia. They are birds of grassland and moor.

Here we review the species its lifestyle and habits and as always we commence with a description of the subject under review.

Twite and Habitat

Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland . Richard Crossley.
Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland . Richard Crossley. | Source

Description of the Twite

The adult male in breeding plumage has the feathers of the crown,nape and back a ruddy olive brown,with blackish centres and paler edges. The rump is reddish, the wings dark brown, the greater coverts with paler edges whitish towards the tips. The inner primary feathers margined with white as are the tips of the secondary feathers. The tail feathers are blackish brown, the three outer pairs with whitish edges.

A superciliary {over the eye },streak ,the lores and ear coverts and cheeks are a rufous brown, the ear coverts with dusky streaks. The under parts are in the main a pale tawny brown,clearest on the throat. The centre of the breast and abdomen a dull white as are the under tail coverts. The sides of the breast and flanks streaked with blackish markings. The beak is a pale ochre yellow.

The female has no red on the rump. After the autumn moult this species shows less of the dark centres to the feathers,and the beak becomes paler. The young birds resemble the female, but have somewhat more dusky beaks, the males however, do show the red on the rump.

Courtesy of PC King. Standard You Tube license.

General and Historical information.

It is thought that there are now only around 100 breeding pairs in the whole of Ireland. Most of them being in North Mayo. Dr.Derek McLoughlin said the bird had disappeared from most of Ireland and he has 'grave concerns' about them. A loss of habitat is one of the reasons the Twite population has fallen. He proposes conservation measures including maintaining traditional habitat ,managed meadows,including late cutting of those meadows and sustainable management of uplands to ensure the survival of the species.{ Source BBC news }.

The Twite is sometimes referred to as the 'Mountain Linnet' and it is the same size and shape as the Linnet**. Older names for this species include Hill Lintie and 'Yellow neb lintie' . It is a bird of the northern portions of Great Britain. In the UK it is classed as a migrant/resident breeder and a winter visitor.

As winter approaches the Twite forsakes the bleaker regions and wanders in small flocks through the cultivated lowlands in search of food which consists of the seeds of Charlock and other weed seeds. At this time they often consort with the Brown Linnet.

Lord Lilford {1800's} reveals that his acquaintance with this species was chiefly confined to having often met with them on the moors of Scotland when Grouse shooting in August and September. He stated " At that season it is generally met with in small family parties of six to eight, flitting about grassy spots among the heather and feeding on various small seeds. It may be distinguished at once from the common Linnet on the wing by its lighter make and darker colour and sharp call note. In captivity this species becomes very tame, but has not much to recommend it,as the song though sweet, is short,broken and of little power" {see captivity below}.

The call note was described as resembling 'twah-it' of which the name Twite is a fanciful rendering. On the wing it Twitters,somewhat in the fashion of the Linnet. The song,though inferior is not unlike that of the Linnet. Their flight is rapid and undulating, when they are moving to where they are to settle next over a field or moor,they utter a soft twitter and intervals.

Looking at the records from my neck of the woods -North West England-, I turned to T A Coward, 'Birds of Cheshire' ,1907. he made the following notes " As a breeding species in Cheshire the Twite {who he knew as Linota flavirostris} is now confined to the hill country in the East. It is plentiful on the Moorlands of Longdendale and Mr. S Radcliffe informs me that it breeds freely on the higher ground in the neighbourhood of the Swineshaw Reservoirs. The bird is common on all the grouse moors of the Derbyshire border,and we have seen it in the breeding season on the pastures near Wincle. The Twite was fairly abundant at Carrington before the Moss was reclaimed.and it probably nested in former times on many low-lying Mosses in Cheshire"

When the birds are pairing in the spring they have been observed, the male showing off before the female perched on some stone wall or heap of turf,he repeatedly opens and depresses his wings in order to display the rose red feathers of the rump.

As far as I can tell from historical records, the Twite was first described from specimens obtained in the nieghbourhood of Sheffield {Yorkshire}, by Francis Jessop, F.R.S., he discovered also the Garden Warbler and the Wood wren**. This was in 1650. This ornithologist resided on his ancestral estate of Broom Hall, just outside the 'dirty' village down in the hollow,where a thriving business in the manufacture of knives and other kinds of cutlery had been carried out for three centuries or more.

Jessop discovered the Twite in the Peak District of Derbyshire { Now a national Park}. He communicated his discovery of this bird to his friend Willughby, who described it under the name of Mountain Linnet,Linaria montana, in his 'Ornithologia', a work which appeared after his death in 1676, under the able editorship of John Ray.

** This species has already been reviewed in this series.

Twite in winter

Originally posted to Flickr ,uploaded to commons by MPF. Image taken in Holland.
Originally posted to Flickr ,uploaded to commons by MPF. Image taken in Holland. | Source

Keeping birds was once a popular pastime


Illustration of the Twite

Illustration by Wihelm Von Wright 1810-1887
Illustration by Wihelm Von Wright 1810-1887 | Source

Twites in captivity

Before it became illegal to keep wild birds in captivity {with a few licensed exceptions}, it was a popular past time and bird-catchers made a good living from it. They caught the birds by whatever means {usually by nets} and sold them to those that kept them in cages or aviaries,or as food to the markets. The following paragraphs reflect on this time in our avian history.

Butler, 1898,relates the following. " From time to time I have had Twites brought to me by Bird catchers and in 1889,I had purchased two males and turned them loose in one of my cool aviaries. They soon became fairly tame,but nothing like so confiding as my Redpolls**. They nevertheless sang from the first ."

" Most birds are selfish,but very few are so persistently greedy and spiteful withal,as Twites. I had Canaries in the same aviary,and, as they had barely completed their moult,a saucer of egg food was daily placed in the aviary for their benefit. No sooner ,however, that the Twites discovered that the egg was good,that they simply took possession of the saucer,savagely attacking every canary that attempted to come near it until their somewhat voracious appetite was sated."

" In the spring of the following year my Twites began to assume the rosy colouring on the lower back and rump, but before they had fully developed it, they caught fever from a sick canary,and in Early June both of them died.I never cared to purchase others."

In the volume of the Avicultural Magazine,Mr.G.C.Swales, of Beverly Yorkshire {north east England}, gave the following account of breeding Twites in confinement. " A pair of Twites have this season bred and reared young in my small aviary,and,as it is, I believe, a rather uncommon occurrence, a few notes may be acceptable. These birds are a a very interesting pair, the male about half pied white and the hen pure white { the latter may be known to some of my readers,as it has been exhibited at both the Palace and Aquarium Shows} They are kept with about half a dozen other finches in an aviary quite out in the country."

" The hen commenced to build on May 14 and laid her first egg on the 17 th,laying altogether five eggs and sitting closely after the third was laid. I did not look again at the eggs, but saw the old birds busy feeding on June 2 and following days.. I looked again at the nest on June 8 hoping to find some young birds,but the nest only contained one poor starved thing which died the following day The weather was very stormy at the time they were hatched and I think this was the cause of their doing so badly."

" On June 15 I noticed the hen had nearly completed another nest and she laid on June 16 and the three following days. having a Redpoll nesting at the same time, I gave her two of the Twite's eggs,making up the number for each with infertile eggs. Both birds hatched on the same day, the two in the Redpoll's nest perished at once, though she is a good feeder,and has reared two broods of her own this season".

" The Twite successfully reared hers, and then they left the nest on July 19,and are now very fine birds, but quite normally coloured. This I expected as I have reared a large number during the past few years from both white,pied and cinnamon Lesser Redpolls and have inbred them, but have never had one vary in the least from the normal colour."

" Young Twites are not nearly so precocious as the Redpolls, they were a long time before attempting to peck for themselves,and even now {August} clamour to the old ones for food,whereas I have seen young Redpolls a week after leaving the nest shell hard canary seed. My birds have no soft food given to them,but as much flowering tops of the Dwarf Grass ,Dandelion, Knapweed,Thistle and Plantains they wish,and as many aphids of the Rose or Apple or Plum tree as I can at the time obtain. Infested branches being put in the aviary for the birds to pick them off. The latter I consider to be very essential for the successful rearing of finches in confinement, especially for the first few days after they have hatched"

Courtesy of Dmitry Yakubovich. Standard You Tube license. taken in Belarus.

Eggs of the Twite


Breeding ,Nest and Eggs.

The Twite is a rather late breeder and generally commences egg laying during the month of May. The nest of the Twite is usually located low down in the heather, sometimes even on the ground among grasses or in a rocky ledge. It has also been recorded found in bushes and occasionally among Ivy.

It is neatly formed of rootlets, or heather intermingled with grass and lined with wool,hair and feathers or even thistle down. The nest is beautifully furnished inside,and is almost as neat as the nest of the Lesser Redpoll. When the nest is placed on the ground the outside is built to suit the locality. However, in a tree or among Heather the nest is somewhat large and clumsy externally with the foundation being composed of twigs of Heather interwoven with grass stalks ,which alone form the upper portion.

The eggs which number five to six are of a pale greenish blue , speckled, spotted and blotched or streaked with reddish brown. They are indistinguishable from those of the Linnet, though, those that are knowledgeable in the subject say they are more frequently streaked than those of that bird.The eggs are incubated for a period of about 13 days by the female and the young are ready to fledge in a further 15-17 days.

Seebohm,-relates a tale that on " The 28th of May, 1870, I took a nest with four fresh eggs, between Moscar Bar and Strines near Sheffield {Yorkshire}, during an afternoons ramble on the moors. The nest was in a niche on the edge of the turf which had been cut to make a road,and the top of the nest was level with the surface of the ground. The bird few off the nest to a small rock close by in the heather,where it remained for a long time,giving me and my companion ample opportunity of examining it through binoculars."

" Not more than a dozen yards further on in a precisely similar situation was the nest of a Ring Ouzel**. In the course of the afternoon we found several more nests of the Ring Ouzel containing eggs,peeped into three or four nests of the Red Grouse,took in a nest of a Merlin**,containing five eggs,climbed up to a Sparrowhawk's nest with eggs and examined the nest of a Kestrel**,which we took two days afterwards, together with a clutch of Golden Plover eggs and a forsaken nest of a Black Grouse, so that the poor little Twite,really the most interesting of them all,was almost forgotten"

** This species has already been reviewed in this series.

Illustration of a pair of Twite

British Birds with their Nest and Eggs. Butler  1898
British Birds with their Nest and Eggs. Butler 1898 | Source


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, I agree entirely with your comment about the judge. They just see the what they are looking for as opposed to seeing the bird and its unique lifestyle and characters. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This bird is a real beauty, and remind me a bit of a wren. I have to laugh, as a photo judge once told a friend that he'd never favorably judge a bird on the ground. I kept my opinion to myself, which is the fact that how can one capture a mockingbird wing-flashing or a robin obtaining a worm?

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      hi, you are correct in saying that the winter plumage is designed to stave off the cold. Thank you for visit and for leaving your appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.

    • craftybegonia profile image


      3 years ago from Southwestern, United States

      Twites are so cute! I love the photos that illustrate this article and particularly loved the one that is pudgy and apparently standing on the snow, I suppose their down grows thicker for the winter to protect them from the cold and that is the reason they look so plump.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Sally, glad you enjoyed it and thank you for your kind comments. Best wishes to you.


      Hello Devika, as always your comments are encouraging and welcomed. Thank you to for all your votes they are truly appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Twites are so lovely and small. Your hubs are most informative. I enjoyed learning about another unique bird, and as always you show your best in presentation and research. Voted up, interesting, useful and beautiful.

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      3 years ago from Norfolk


      These are so cute, not something I have ever seen any myself. Love the little eggs too.

      Another really interesting and attractive hub.


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