Graphic design of a Greenfinch (l) and Siskin (r)  | The RSPB

When is a green finch not a greenfinch?

Meet two brightly coloured finches that can be difficult to tell apart, siskins and greenfinches.

With a shared love of seeds and similar green and yellow colouring, identification can be tricky. Here’s our guide to help you sort out these seed-loving songbirds.

Greenfinches

Greenfinches are fairly common across the UK and are frequent visitors to our gardens. Their fortunes, however, have been mixed in recent years, with populations suffering periodic declines.

Most recently this has been linked to trichomonosis, a parasite-induced disease which prevents the birds from feeding properly. You can help prevent the spread of this disease by regularly cleaning your bird feeders.

Identification

Greenfinches are a little larger than sparrows, with a large triangular beak. They appear chunkier than siskins.

Male

  •  Olive-green colouring all over.
  • Bright yellow flashes on wings and tails.

Female

  •  Duller than males, grey-green all over.
  •  Bright yellow flash on wings. Yellow on tail is smaller than in males.

Juvenile

  • Young greenfinches are very similar to females but have a streaky breast and back.

Call/song

Greenfinches are known for their somewhat wheezy sounding calls. Their song is often a variety of notes and trills including a repetitive ‘too-eee’ and followed by a drawn-out, buzzy ‘dweeez’.
In flight, you may hear them call a fast ‘chichichichichi’ as well as ‘jup, jup, jup’.

Behaviour

In spring, watch out for the courtship displays of male greenfinches. Singing loudly, these little birds fly around in circles with slow wingbeats in an effort to impress the ladies and mark their territories.

Nesting

Greenfinches nest in tall shrubs or trees from April, and will choose open woods, hedges and large gardens. Their nests are typically bulky and made of grass and twigs.

Where to look

Greenfinches can be seen in gardens, parks, woodland and on farmland, and are only absent from upland areas without trees and bushes. They can be tempted to bird feeders and tables with seeds, particularly black sunflower seeds. In winter they often join with other finches in flocks.

Greenfinch call

Siskins

These little finches were once found only in the pine forests of northern Britain. However, as commercial plantations of pines and other evergreens expanded throughout the UK, so did siskins. Although they tend to prefer coniferous woodland, siskins will visit also garden feeders. Nyger seeds, in particular, are popular with siskins.

Identification

Siskins are smaller than greenfinches, and notably brighter and streakier. Their pointed bills are also slimmer.

Male

  •  Yellow-green, with bright yellow breast and face.
  • Male has black crown and bib.
  •  Black and yellow wing bars.

Female

  • Paler grey-green and streakier than males, with light whitish breast.
  • Pale head with dark streaks.
  • Black and yellow wing bars.

Juvenile

  • Young siskins are browner with whitish streaks.
  • Pale yellow wing bars.

Call/song

Listen out for their two distinctive calls, a loud ‘tsuu’ and a ringing ‘tszing’. Their song is a sweet-sounding twittering of calls and trills.

Behaviour

Siskins often feed high in the tops of trees, particularly conifers, but they will also visit bird feeders and tables. In spring, listen out for males singing from the tops of trees.

Nesting

Siskins favour evergreens such as pine and spruce and build tiny nests in the tops of trees made of twigs and lined with down.

Where to look

Coniferous forest and birch and alder woodland are good places to look for siskins. Keep an eye out too along the banks of streams and rivers where alder grows. Siskins will also visit garden feeders. In winter, they can be seen in flocks foraging for food with other finches, such as redpolls.

Siskin call

Blue tit (l), Great tit (m) and Coal tit (r) | The RSPB

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