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  • Writer's pictureHarris Brooker

Finches of Speyside

This blog focuses on finches, a group of colourful songbirds known for their diet of seeds and insects. It will discuss how to recognise them, their sizes, habitats and sometimes their relationship with humans. These can all be found in Speyside, within the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland.


Chaffinch

One of the commonest finches in Speyside. The male has an orange breast, which looks duller in the wintertime, but brighter in summer. Its wings have white patches, the extent of which can be variable among individuals. They also have some yellow fringing along the secondaries. The female is duller and greyish white with similar white patches on the wings.


This is a zoomed in image of a small songbird called a Chaffinch, it is a male because of its orange breast. It has some grey on the head and bill. A black back and yellow wing bar are also partially visible. It is sat on a log.
Male Chaffinch (Photo Credit: Jane Hope)

In this zoomed in image there are two male Chaffinches in flight next to a partially visible bird feeder on the left.
Male Chaffinches (Photo Credit: Jane Hope)

They make a range of calls ranging from simple ‘pink, pink’ notes to a full-blown song, that starts with a nasal chirping and finishes with a flourish, often made by males at the tops of trees when defending their territories.


They can be found in both coniferous and deciduous woodland and often visit bird feeders. The Chaffinch is reckoned to have got its name by the fact that it liked to forage among piles of chaff in the search for seeds, accidentally discarded by farmers when threshing their crops. They have a body length of about 14.5cm, weigh 18-29g and have a wingspan of about 24.5cm.



Bullfinch

A striking finch that can sometimes be mistaken for a Chaffinch. They can be unobtrusive and are most easily given away by their soft melancholy calls, usually made when they’re feeding in the canopy on seeds and buds. The male has a black face with a striking orange breast and white vent. Its back is grey, and the wingtips are bluish black. The female is much greyer. They have a body length of around 14.5 - 16.5cm, weighs 21 - 27g and has a wingspan of about 22 - 26cm.


In this zoomed in image there is a small songbird called a Bullfinch. It is a male because of its striking orange breast. It has a grey and black back and its face is chunky and black with a short bill. It is on the ground surrounded by grass.
Male Bullfinch (Photo Credit: Bill Kunze)

In this zoomed in image there is a female Bullfinch, which is greyer than the male and has a browner breast. Its white rump which both genders have is visible here. It is sat on a tree branch with lichens on it.
Female Bullfinch (Photo Credit: Bill Kunze)

Brambling

Like a Chaffinch, but more brightly coloured. The upper breast is a bold orange, and the belly is white. In winter it has a brown ‘hood’ flecked with black, which turns completely black in the breeding season. Female is similar but with a duller grey hood and more muted colours. Makes a loud nasal call. Can be found in coniferous and deciduous woodland, though in Britain the latter is more likely given that it is mainly seen in autumn and winter. They are particularly fond of Beech mast. They have a body length of about 14cm, weigh 24g and have a wingspan of about 25 - 26cm.


In this zoomed in image there is a small songbird called a Brambling which has a striking orange breast with a white belly. Its head is brownish with a yellow bill. Its wings are black with yellow wing bars. It is sat on a clump of twigs.
Male Brambling (Photo Credit: Speyside Wildlife)
In this zoomed in image there is a Brambling in the air trying to land on a bird feeder jutting from the left with a Chaffinch already on it. There are some snowflakes falling.
Brambling (Photo Credit: Speyside Wildlife)

Greenfinch

A greenish bird, with yellow in the wings and a large pinkish bill. In winter looks more greyish, but still with yellow wing bars. It can make loud nasal calls. Can be found in both deciduous and coniferous woodland, but also farmland and gardens, in which they come looking for seeds and insects. Niger seed is a particular favourite. They have a body length of about 15cm, weigh around 28g and have a wingspan of about 26cm.


In this image there is a small songbird called a Greenfinch which has a greenish yellow plumage with a thick cone-like bill that is pinkish grey in colour. Its yellow wing bars are partially visible. It is partially obscured by the edge of a muddy pool with grassland in the background.
Greenfinch (Photo Credit: Roy Atkins)

Goldfinch

A yellow and brown finch with a bright red face, has a cone-like bill well adapted to extracting the seeds from plants like thistles and teasels. They can also eat insects. Has yellow wing patches on black wings that are easily seen in flight. They have a body length of about 12cm long, weighs 14 - 19g and a wingspan of around 21 - 25.5cm.


In this image there is a small songbird called a Goldfinch which has a white breast with buff brown patches and the head is black and white with a face that is bright red. It has a pale whitish brown bill. It is sat on the branch of a gorse bush.
Goldfinch (Photo Credit: Bill Kunze)

Linnet

A reddish grey finch with a short conical bill. Females are a duller brown with some brown streaking on the breast. They are fond of gorse and heathland habitats, especially near the coast where they like to eat seeds and insects. They are 13.5cm long, weigh 15 - 22g and have a wingspan of about 21-25.5cm.


In this image there is a flock of small songbirds called Linnets which have brownish breasts with brown streaking, at least in winter plumage which is what these ones are in. They are sat on a fence, with a fence post in the middle, with blue sky in the background.
Linnets (Photo Credit: Ian Tulloch)

Siskin

A small yellow finch. Males are a bright yellow and black. Has a black cap with patches of brighter yellow on the neck and darker yellow on the rest of the body. The belly has dark streaking. The female is similar but the colours on it are duller. Particularly fond of coniferous forests. Has a thin cone-like bill that can get into the segments of pinecones. They have a body length of about 12cm, weigh 12 - 18g and have a wingspan of about 20 - 23cm.


In this image there is a small songbird called a Siskin. This is a male with yellow and black plumage with black on the face. It has a greyish cone-like bill. It is sat on a branch.
Male Siskin (Photo Credit: Jane Hope)
In this zoomed in image there is a female Siskin which is much greyer and whiter than the male with dark streaking down the breast. It is sat on a branch.
Female Siskin (Photo Credit: Jane Hope)

Redpoll

There are two species that occur in Speyside. The Lesser Redpoll, which is greyish-red breeds, and the Common Redpoll is white and brown with a bolder red patch on the front of its head and is more often a winter visitor. They make a dry reeling call. The Lesser Redpoll has a body length of 11.5cm, weighs 9-12g and has a wingspan of about 20 - 22.5cm.


In this image there is a small songbird called a Redpoll, which is a brown and white bird with a red crown on top of its head. It is sat on a branch.
Redpoll (Photo Credit: Jane Hope)

Crossbill

There are around three species of Crossbill found in Speyside. The Common, Scottish and Parrot Crossbills. They are each very similar, too similar in many cases to be told apart accurately without making sound recordings to analyse their calls. But Crossbills in general are easily recognised by their plumage, orangey red in males and greenish yellow in females. Their bills which give them their name do indeed cross-over, a special adaptation in their diet of the seeds of pinecones. They can use their bills to prize open segments of the pinecones and use their barbed tongues to get at the seeds inside. They lead a nomadic lifestyle, constantly on the move looking for pinecone seeds. They can sometimes be difficult to see but one sure sign of their presence is their calls, a ‘chip, chip, chip’ or ’chup, chup, chup’ whose pitch and depth of notes differs among the three species. The Common Crossbill at least has a body length of 16.5cm, weigh 35 - 50g and have a wingspan of about 27 - 30.5cm.


In this image there is a male Common Crossbill which has orangey plumage and a brown back that is partially visible. Its bill is silvery grey and crosses over slightly. It is sat in some branches of Scot's Pine.
Male Common Crossbill (Photo Credit: Roy Atkins)
In this zoomed in image there is a female Common Crossbill which is yellowish grey in plumage. It is sat in the branches of a Scot's Pine.
Female Common Crossbill (Photo Credit: Roy Atkins)

Hawfinch

The largest finch in Europe, these are less regularly seen in Speyside, but when they are it is a special occasion. They are brown and grey, with a thick bill capable of crushing cherry stones, hence the name ‘haw’ as in hawthorn, which is a shrub that bears red berries. They eat seeds, buds and shoots. They are often found in old deciduous woodland, but in other places can be seen in pine forests if there’s a good water source nearby. One of the reasons it’s a relatively rare bird in Scotland is because those habitats have largely been felled. They have a body length of 18cm, weigh 48 - 62g and have a wingspan of about 29 - 33cm.


In this image there is a small songbird called a Hawfinch which is black and brown with a massive silvery grey bill. It has whitish wing bars on its wings. It is sat on the edge of a muddy pool with grassland in the background.
Hawfinch (Photo Credit: Roy Atkins)

If you would like to have a chance to see these finch species you can book one of our Guided Days Out here.

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