Linnet

Linaria cannabina

Last updated: September 7, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Neil Bowman/Shutterstock.com

While linnets are monogamous during mating season, they do not mate for life. While breeding pairs are together, the males are highly territorial and will defend the nesting site and the surrounding area.

Linnet Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Passeriformes
Family
Fringillidae
Genus
Linaria
Scientific Name
Linaria cannabina

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Linnet Conservation Status

Linnet Locations

Linnet Locations

Linnet Facts

Prey
Invertebrates
Name Of Young
Chicks
Group Behavior
  • Pair
  • Flocks
Fun Fact
While linnets are monogamous during mating season, they do not mate for life. While breeding pairs are together, the males are highly territorial and will defend the nesting site and the surrounding area.
Biggest Threat
Habitat loss
Most Distinctive Feature
Red patch on their forehead
Wingspan
8.5-10 inches
Age Of Fledgling
10 to 14 days
Habitat
Scrub, wasteland, heath and urban areas
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Favorite Food
Seeds
Common Name
Linnet
Location
Europe, Asia, and West Africa
Nesting Location
Branches or stems hanging over the water
Migratory
1

Linnet Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Red
  • Black
  • White
  • Pink
  • Multi-colored
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
2 to 8 years
Weight
0.5 to 0.75 ounces
Length
5 inches
Aggression
Low

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Linnets are small songbirds that are members of the finch family. They occur in West Asia, Europe, and North-West Africa. These little birds inhabit scrublands, farmlands, hedgerows, fields, parks, and orchards.

In the 19th century, linnets were a popular cage bird, and many households kept them as pets. However, their population numbers dropped drastically during the second half of the 20th century due to habitat loss and the pollution of the ground with pesticides and fertilizers.

Although their numbers have declined by nearly 50%, they are not endangered and are listed as Least Concern on IUCN’s Redlist.

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Three Incredible Linnet Facts!

  • During Autumn, Northern and Eastern linnets migrate south
  • They are monogamous birds, mating with only one partner during their breeding season and producing two to three broods a year
  • Linnets’ numbers have dropped significantly over the years, especially the UK population, which declined by 57% between 1970 and 2014

Where to Find the Linnet

Linnets occur across Asia and Europe but also inhabit parts of Western Africa. In the United Kingdom, they spread from the east coast all the way to Scotland. However, they are usually seen at low altitudes instead of higher upland regions like northwest Scotland.

They occur in 67 countries, including Afghanistan, Egypt, Italy, Portugal, and China.

Nests

Linnets build their nests at the ends of branches or stems hanging over the water. They construct tidy bowl-shaped nests in trees with holes, gorse bushes, and walls; sometimes, they claim nests are abandoned by other birds.



Linnet Scientific Name

The linnet’s scientific name is Linaria cannabina; however, the European species is called Carduelis cannabina; this is due to their preference for cannabis/marijuana, which is one of the most common foods in their diets.

In addition, the word ‘linnet’ originated in the 16th century, with ‘lin” meaning ‘flax’ because of their love for flax seeds.alle

Linnets belong to the Order Passeriformes and are the most well-known typical birds that make up more than 50% of the world’s bird species, which includes birds species like:

Linnets are members of the Fringillidae Family, which consists of songbirds; they are often referred to as true finches. This family consists of 230 bird species within 50 genera, and members occur on every continent besides Antarctica. It includes birds like:

  • Chaffinch
  • Grosbeak
  • Cardueline finch
  • Euphonia

There are several recognized subspecies, which include:

  • L. c. autochthona – Scotland
  • L. c. cannabina  – western, central, and northern Europe, central and west Siberia. Non-breeding in north Africa and south-west Asia
  • L. c. bella – the Middle East to Mongolia and northwestern China
  • L. c. mediterranea – Iberian Peninsula, Italy, Greece, north-west Africa, and Mediterranean islands
  • L. c. guentheri – Madeira
  • L. c. meadewaldoi – western and central Canary Island (El Hierro and Gran Canaria)
  • L. c. harterti – eastern Canary Islands (Alegranza, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura)

Linnet Size and Appearance

The linnet has a gray head, as well as gray underparts. Their chins and throats are a lighter, whitish color. Linnets’ upper breasts are a vibrant red, which flows into a  brown color on their bellies. In addition, the center of their breasts and upper bellies are pink or buff. Finally, their wings are a mixture of brown, white, and black.

The males change color slightly during mating season, with brown upperparts, dull red underparts, and black tails, ending in a buff color. The top of their wings are usually chestnut brown; the coverts on the outer parts of their wings are black and narrow. However, their primary coverts are white, and the secondary and tertiary coverts are brown.

Linnets crowns have a red spot on the front, which is their most significant distinguishing feature. They have black bills with a gray base and dark brown eyes. In addition, their feet and legs are light brown.

One distinguishing feature between genders is the male’s pinkish-red forehead and chest, which is absent in females.

On Average, linnets measure 5 inches in length and weigh 0.5 to 0.75 ounces, with a wingspan of 8.5 to 10 inches.

birds with beautiful songs: linnet
Linnets are approximately 5 inches long and weigh between 0.5 to 0.75 ounces. They have a wingspan of 8.5 to 10 inches.

iStock.com/JMrocek

Linnet Diet

Linnets are omnivores and primarily feed on plant matter, but they also enjoy seeds, fruit, and buds. Chicks mainly feed on seeds, including kernels from:

  • Crucifers
  • Wildflowers
  • Chickweeds
  • Thistle
  • Dandelions
  • Mayweed
  • Groundsels
  • Hawthorns

Adult linnets spend a lot of their time on the ground foraging and will also prey on invertebrates and larval insects.

Linnet Migration Pattern and Timing

The Northern and Eastern populations of linnets start to migrate south during autumn. The male’s coloring starts to change to a bright rose-pink color when they migrate back north after wintering in North Africa and Europe.

Linnet Behavior

Linnets spend most of their time on the ground foraging and hopping around in the low vegetation. However, unlike most finches, they do not hang upside down.

They usually live in pairs or small colonies; however, outside of the mating season, they will form larger flocks consisting of hundreds of birds. In addition, they will forage with mixed-specie flocks in semi-desert, along coastlines, and in open cultivated fields.

While linnets are monogamous during mating season, they do not mate for life. While breeding pairs are together, the males are highly territorial and will defend the nesting site and the surrounding area.

During courtship displays, males ruffle their crown and breast feathers, enhancing their crimson-colored patches. They also hop around the female while singing, drop their wings, and fan their tails while slightly swaying from side to side.

Sometimes the males will chase the females while flying erratically through low vegetation. In addition, the pair will touch bills to show affection, and the males will feed the females during courtship and incubation.

Linnet Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

Linnets’ breeding season takes place between mid-April and early August. In addition, linnets produce two to three broods annually.

The females are responsible for building nests, but while they collect the material, the males accompany them to stand guard. Females construct their nests relatively low, usually about 9 feet above ground in hedges, thorny, dense bushes, and sometimes in woodpiles.

Linnets build their nests in the shape of a cup with moss, roots, twigs, and plant fibers. In addition, they line the nest with fur, plant down, and feathers.

Female linnets lay between 4 to 6 light blue eggs with dark streaking and spots. They incubate their eggs alone for 11 to 13 days while males do the hunting.

Males and females share the responsibility of caring for the chicks who remain in the nest for 10 to 14 days. However, once the chicks have fledged, they still rely on their parents for two more weeks. Linnets’ breeding success rate depends on a few factors like predation from mammals and other birds, weather conditions, and human threats.

Lifespan

These birds have a relatively short lifespan; on average, they can live for 2 years in their natural habitats. However, there are records of linnets living up to 8 years in the wild.

Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

The linnet needs to be wary of birds of prey like hawks and eagles who prey on them.

In the late 20th century, linnet populations over much of north-west and central Europe declined due to the growth of the agricultural sector. This resulted in hedgerows’ destruction and fallow weedy fields’ eradication because of herbicide applications.

Linnet’s conservation status is listed as Least Concern on IUCN’s redlist. However, their population is on the decline, and various organizations are going to great efforts to save them from extinction.

Population

Linnets have an estimated population size of between 50 to 100 million individuals. While this seems like a large number, their population is decreasing yearly.

How Do They Communicate?

Linnets are boisterous birds that make very loud noises. They use ‘chit-chit-chit’ calls to communicate and express themselves. In addition, they sing while in flight with other finch species and when they rest on tree branches.

Similar Birds

Several types of birds are very similar to linnets, either in size, color, or behavior. These species include:

Lesser Redpoll

The lesser redpoll is a small bird specie that spends a lot of its time foraging for seeds and invertebrates in tall trees like birch, larch, and alder. Initially, they were classified as the Common Redpoll, but data suggests they are their own species and were renamed the lesser redpoll.

They often flock with Siskins and have recently started frequenting bird feeders in urban gardens. Breeding occurs in woodlands or gardens, where they can be seen dangling from tiny twigs in alder or birch trees or, alternatively, from shrub stems.

They are a widespread species and occur across Scotland, Wales, and northern and eastern England. Lesser redpolls will migrate in small flocks from their breeding territories to lowland areas when temperatures start to decrease.

They favor the stands of Ash and Birch trees, where they can use their slender bills to extract seeds. Lesser redpolls frequent suburban bird feeders, especially in the colder months when their food supply runs low.

They typically feed on seeds, especially conifer seeds. However, to get to tricky spots, the lesser redpoll will hang upside down while gripping onto branches with its strong feet. In addition, they eat fruit, buds, and invertebrates. During the winter months, flocks tend to favor birch and alder trees.

This species is rare in central, southern, and southwest England. However, they do sometimes inhabit these areas in winter.

Common Redpoll

Common redpolls are small greyish-brown finches with bright red patches and darks streaking on their forehead. In addition, they have a black bib and two pale stripes running down their wings.

They primarily feed on seeds and often eat acrobatically (upside down). However, they also enjoy vegetable matter, catkins, willow buds, birches, alders, smaller conifer seeds, and the seeds of grass and weeds. In addition, they eat insects, typically during summer.

Redpolls can temporarily store seeds in their throat pouches. This helps them hold their food and fly away before eating it to avoid predators or seek a warmer location.

Common redpolls prefer to inhabit open thickets, brushy pastures, and weedy fields. Breeding takes place in conifer plantations, usually in upland areas. Common redpolls generally have two clutches per year. Females will incubate the for around 10 to 11 days, while males do all the hunting and foraging. Chicks start to fledge by 12 days old and rely on their parents for a few weeks afterward.

When the temperature drops, some common redpolls will tunnel into the snow for warmth during the night. These tunnels can measure more than a foot underneath the insulating snow.

Twite

The twite is a small finch often found around salt marshes. They migrate south during the colder months and return to their native habitat with the arrival of summer.

Twites are often confused with members of the linnet family, even though they have a lot of differences, the main one being the color of their feathers.

These birds inhabit Scotland’s highlands and England and Wales’s northern territories. However, they cover most of Europe during migratory seasons, and can also be found in Asia, specifically, China.

Twites are mainly spotted on the coast and moorland in areas without trees. In addition, they occur near shareas with dense shrubbery and salt marshes. Unlike most finches, both sexes help to collect material and build nests.

Although there is no evidence of their lifespans, finches are known to live between 5 to 20 years in the wild.

These tiny birds can lay between 5 to 6 eggs during the breeding season, which begins in May each year. Their eggs are a magnificent pale blue color.

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About the Author

I am a 33-year-old creative and professional writer from South Africa. Wildlife is one of my greatest passions and led me to become the writer I am today. I was very blessed to work with an abundance of wildlife (mainly big cats) and captured my unique experiences in writing. But I wanted to take it further, and I ventured into the freelancing world. Now, I get to spend my days writing about animals; what could be better?

Linnet FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What are linnets known for?

Linnets were popular cage birds with beautiful voices. But they are mainly known for their seed eating behavior.

Are linnets extinct?

Linnets have an estimated population size of between 50 to 100 million individuals. While this seems like a large number, their population is decreasing yearly

Do linnets sing?

They sing while in flight with other finch species and when they rest on tree branches

How big is a linnet?

On Average, linnets measure 5 inches in length and weigh 0.5 to 0.75 ounces, with a wingspan of 8.5 to 10 inches.

Sources
  1. RSBP, Available here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/linnet/#:~:text=A%20small%2C%20slim%20finch%2C%20widely,large%20flocks%20during%20the%20winter.
  2. Kidadl, Available here: https://kidadl.com/facts/animals/common-linnet-facts
  3. Soft Schools, Available here: https://www.softschools.com/facts/animals/common_linnet_facts/1849/
  4. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_linnet
  5. Animalia, Available here: https://animalia.bio/common-linnet

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