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Goldfinch and the Chaffinch

Updated on August 1, 2015

European Goldfinch

The gold finch is a beautiful bird.
The gold finch is a beautiful bird. | Source

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

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 kept as a cage bird.

Description of the Goldfinch.

The plumage is a striking alchemy of red,white, black, yellow and 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 darker red face which extends to just behind the eye. The slightly lighter red of the female face does not reach the eye. The birds are 12-13cm long and weigh between 14 and 19gms.

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.

Diet and Life Style.

The main diet of the goldfinch consists of small seeds with a tendency towards thistle and teasel 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 regularly seen at bird feeders and on stubble where they take the seeds of arable weeds. They also like the seeds of the Asteraceae family which includes dandelions and hawkweeds.

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 sharply and theories were put forward to explain this decline. It is thought that the main factor was the loss of winter stubble,thus denying them weed seeds aways abundant in this habitat. In common with many birds they relied heavily on the stubble throughout the winter.

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 over 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 back to the Green list, which means there are no current conservation concerns for the species. As with all our bird species they will continue to be monitored. The latest population estimates from the B.T.O. is 313,000 territories in the breeding season.

Goldfinch in winter tree

Goldfinches form small flocks called charms during the winter. And small  groups are regularly seen in garden trees.
Goldfinches form small flocks called charms during the winter. And small groups are regularly seen in garden trees. | Source

Nest and Eggs

The goldfinch generally chooses a tree, especially fruit trees when they are available in their territories, which is not always the case as they are birds that frequent waste weedy land most of the time.

The nest is cupped shaped and as neat as the dainty bird itself. It is very similar to the abode built by the chafficnch , but a smaller version. It is very 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 on a smaller scale, and like them vary greatly in the depth of spotting. They are first found during May.

The eggs are incubated for 13-15 days. The chicks are blind,helpless and downy when they are first born and totally reliant on their parents.. They stay in the nest for 14-17 days. They have 2 possibly three broods per season.

CHAFFINCH .Fringilla coelebs.

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

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

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

Male Chaffinch

Male chaffinch in spring tree
Male chaffinch in spring tree | Source


From the book familiar wild birds {1800's}
From the book familiar wild birds {1800's}

Chaffinch Description.

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 dark blackish green,grey and rich brown. the brighter colours are beneath. The female is slightly smaller than the male and , as in the case with many species of birds, are duller in their plumage colour. This helps to keep her well camouflaged during the nesting season, when much of her time will be spent incubating her eggs.

She is a mixture of muted grey, brown, olive and green. The overall appearance is generally a greenish brown. However, when in flight the white on her wings and tail make her recognisable. In relation to their body the wings are small to medium, the neck short, the bill medium/short, the legs short. They walk and hop. The flight is bounding {typical of this 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 delightful finch 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 Continental birds. They may then form large flocks who roam in search of food and are particularly fond of the the beech nut known as mast, found beneath the trees at that time of year. Studies have revealed that if food is scarce  local birds will remain but they are not joined by their continental cousins.


Female Chaffinch


Nest and Eggs of the Chaffinch

During March the birds will take up their territories and form pairs and the task of nest building begins during April and 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 very intricately woven together. It is lined with a thick layer of dry grass, feathers and hair.The exterior is decked out with lichen and moss which blends in well with the moss grown environs. however, sometimes this is where the logic ends for other times they will decorate the outside 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 has run and stained the shell. Studies have revealed that on occasion a less characteristic type is encountered being of a pale blue ground colour and rarer still a pure blue unspotted eggs are found. Four {sometimes 5} eggs are laid and here in the north of England are first encountered in May or even June. If conditions are favourable or a replacement clutch is required a second 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 with invertebrates especially caterpillars before they attain the seed diet of the adults.

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


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi agvulpes--These little finches are resident and common over here. \They are only territorial in summer and form flocks known as charms which may include other finches and tits, during the winter months. Thank you for your visit my friend. Best wishes to you.

    • agvulpes profile image


      8 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for sharing these images and information about these beautiful finches. Can you tell me if Finches are permanently territorial as we only get a visit now and again from the gorgeous little birds.

      Rated up!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      stars439 thank you for visiting and for leaving your appreciated comment. Best wishes to you.

    • stars439 profile image


      8 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      I love wildlife. Great hub. GBY

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Peggy W, as usual your comments are warm and welcomed. Thank you also for the votes. Best wishes to you.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      The goldfinch is a beautiful bird and I liked your photos and descriptions of both the goldfinch and the chaffinch. Beautiful as usual. Voted as such as well as useful and up.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Lady Wordsmith, nice to meet you. Thank you for your kind comments. It is always a pleasure to find a fellow Lancastrian on Hubs pages. The starlings are of course the bully boys of birdland. Best wishes to you.

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 

      8 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      D.A.L., I am delighted to read this hub, as goldfinches are the bird I see most often in my garden (in Lancaster!). I absolutely love them! One afternoon, the first time I put out thistle seed, I counted nineteen of the gorgeous little treasures. I've never seen quite that many since, but when I put out mealworm I can see plenty of them hanging around in the trees close by - they never get close until the starlings have had their fill though.

      I agree, the goldfinch is a very beautiful bird. I have such a soft spot for them. Thank you for this hub, which I will now bookmark :)


    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Darski, thank you once again for your kind comments. I have been over to visit, and will do so again. Love and best wishes to you.

      timorous, thank you , the goldfinches you see are probably one of the many subspecies that occur in many parts of the world. Thank you. Best wishes to you.

    • timorous profile image

      Tim Nichol 

      8 years ago from Me to You

      Nice article D.A.L. These are quite different from the goldfinches I see in my yard. Ours are almost all yellow, with a black cap and black and white wings and tail. The younger ones are more of a pale yellow-green.

      Thanks for the interesting info.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 

      8 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      What a beautiful bird, this is an awesome hub, I have missed you come by and visit me. Your write with such passion and love for nature, this is a rate up up love & peace darski


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