The Linnet is a small passerine
A passerine is a bird of the order Passeriformes, which includes more than half of all bird species. Sometimes known as perching birds or, less accurately, as songbirds, the passerines form one of the most diverse terrestrial vertebrate orders: with over 5,000 identified species, it has roughly...

Birds are feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic , egg-laying, vertebrate animals. Around 10,000 living species and 188 families makes them the most speciose class of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from...

 in the finch
The true finches are passerine birds in the family Fringillidae. They are predominantly seed-eating songbirds. Most are native to the Northern Hemisphere, but one subfamily is endemic to the Neotropics, one to the Hawaiian Islands, and one subfamily – monotypic at genus level – is found...

 family Fringillidae.

The Linnet derives its scientific name from its fondness for hemp
Hemp is mostly used as a name for low tetrahydrocannabinol strains of the plant Cannabis sativa, of fiber and/or oilseed varieties. In modern times, hemp has been used for industrial purposes including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food and fuel with modest...

 and its English name
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 from its liking for seeds of flax
Flax is a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae. It is native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India and was probably first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent...

, from which linen
Linen is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant, Linum usitatissimum. Linen is labor-intensive to manufacture, but when it is made into garments, it is valued for its exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather....

 is made.


It is a slim bird with a long tail. The upperparts are brown, the throat is sullied white and the bill is grey. The summer male has a grey nape, red head patch and red breast.

Females and young birds lack the red and have white underparts with the breast streaked buff. The Linnet's pleasant song contains fast trills and twitters.


This bird breeds in Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, western Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

 and north Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

. It is partially resident, but many eastern and northern birds migrate
Bird migration
Bird migration is the regular seasonal journey undertaken by many species of birds. Bird movements include those made in response to changes in food availability, habitat or weather. Sometimes, journeys are not termed "true migration" because they are irregular or in only one direction...

 further south in the breeding range or move to the coasts.

They are sometimes found several hundred miles at sea


Open land with thick bushes is favoured for breeding, including heathland and garden. It builds its nest in a bush, laying 4-7 eggs.

This species can form large flocks outside the breeding season, sometimes mixed with other finches, such as Twite
The Twite is a small passerine bird in the finch family Fringillidae.The Twite is a small finch, similar in size and shape to a Linnet. Birds of the subspecies flavirostris are long, and those of the subspecies altaica are long. It lacks the red head patch and breast shown by the Linnet and the...

, on coasts and salt marshes. Its food mainly consists of seeds, which it also feeds to its chicks.

They feed on the ground, and low down in bushes.

They like small to medium sized seeds: most arable weeds, Polygonum
Polygonum is a genus in the Polygonaceae family. Common names include knotweed, knotgrass, bistort, tear-thumb, mile-a-minute, and several others. In the Middle English glossary of herbs "Alphita" , it was known as ars-smerte. There have been various opinions about how broadly the genus should be...

s (Knotgrass, dock), Crucifers (Charlock, shepherds purse Capsella bursa-pastoris), Chickweeds Stellaria
Stellaria is a genus of about 90-120 species flowering plants in the family Caryophyllaceae, with a cosmopolitan distribution. Common names include stitchwort and chickweed.-Food use:...

, Dandelions, Thistle
Thistle is the common name of a group of flowering plants characterised by leaves with sharp prickles on the margins, mostly in the family Asteraceae. Prickles often occur all over the plant – on surfaces such as those of the stem and flat parts of leaves. These are an adaptation that protects the...

, Sow-thistle, Mayweed
Matricaria is a genus of flowering plants in the sunflower family . Some of the species have the common name of "mayweed," but this name also refers to plants not in this genus....

, Common groundsel, Common Hawthorn
Common Hawthorn
Crataegus monogyna, known as common hawthorn or single-seeded hawthorn, is a species of hawthorn native to Europe, northwest Africa and western Asia. It has been introduced in many other parts of the world where it is an invasive weed...

, Birch
Birch is a tree or shrub of the genus Betula , in the family Betulaceae, closely related to the beech/oak family, Fagaceae. The Betula genus contains 30–60 known taxa...


They have a small component of Invertebrate
An invertebrate is an animal without a backbone. The group includes 97% of all animal species – all animals except those in the chordate subphylum Vertebrata .Invertebrates form a paraphyletic group...

s in their diet.


The Linnet is listed by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan
Biodiversity Action Plan
A Biodiversity Action Plan is an internationally recognized program addressing threatened species and habitats and is designed to protect and restore biological systems. The original impetus for these plans derives from the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity...

 as a priority species, which can be found here.It is protected in the UK by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom and was implemented to comply with the Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds...


In Britain, populations are declining, attributed to increasing use of herbicides, aggressive scrub removal and excessive hedge trimming; its population fell by 56% between 1968 to 1991. This was probably due to decrease in seed supply and increasing use of herbicide being two of the factors.

More worringly, during the 1980-2009 period, its European population decreased by 62% according to the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme

Favourable management practices on agricultural land:
  • Set-aside
    Set-aside was introduced as a political measure by the European Union in 1988 to help reduce the large and costly surpluses produced in Europe under the guaranteed price system of the Common Agricultural Policy ; and to deliver some environmental benefits following considerable damage to...

  • Overwinter Stubbles
  • Uncultivated margins, ditches, field corners
  • Conservation headland
    Conservation headland
    A Conservation Headland is a strip along the edge of an agricultural field, where pesticides is sprayed only in a selective manner. This increases the number and type of weed and insect species present, and benefits the bird species that depend on them...

  • Wild bird cover of species that produce small, oil-rich seeds such as Kale
    Kale is very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin, and reasonably rich in calcium. Kale, as with broccoli and other brassicas, contains sulforaphane , a chemical with potent anti-cancer properties. Boiling decreases the level of sulforaphane; however, steaming,...

    , Quinoa
    Quinoa , a species of goosefoot , is a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal, or grain, as it is not a member of the grass family...

    , Mustard plant
    Mustard plant
    Mustards are several plant species in the genera Brassica and Sinapis whose small mustard seeds are used as a spice and, by grinding and mixing them with water, vinegar or other liquids, are turned into the condiment known as mustard or prepared mustard...

    , Oil-seed rape Brassica napus
  • Restoration and creation of hay meadows
  • Short, thick, thorny hedgerows and scrub for nesting habitat
  • Restoration of meadow
    A meadow is a field vegetated primarily by grass and other non-woody plants . The term is from Old English mædwe. In agriculture a meadow is grassland which is not grazed by domestic livestock but rather allowed to grow unchecked in order to make hay...


Cultural references

The bird was a popular pet in the late Victorian
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

 and Edwardian eras. Tennyson
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the first Baron Tennyson, was an English poet.Tennyson may also refer to:-People:* Baron Tennyson, the barony itself** Alfred, Lord Tennyson , poet...

 mentions "the linnet born within the cage" in part 27 of the poem In Memoriam A.H.H, the same section that contains the famous lines "'Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all." A "cock linnet" features in the classic British music hall
Music hall
Music Hall is a type of British theatrical entertainment which was popular between 1850 and 1960. The term can refer to:# A particular form of variety entertainment involving a mixture of popular song, comedy and speciality acts...

 song of that period My Old Man, and as a character in Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was an Irish writer and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s...

's children's story The Devoted Friend. Wilde
-In academia:* Henry Wilde , British engineer and inventor of the self-energizing dynamo* Winston Wilde, American sexologist-In the arts:* Andrew Wilde , English classical pianist* Andrew Wilde , English actor...

 also mentions how the call of the linnet awakens The Selfish Giant to the one tree where it is springtime in his garden. William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and playwright, and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms...

 evokes the image of the linnet in The Lake Isle of Innisfree (1890) in line 8: "And evening full of the linnet's wings."

"The Linnets" has become the nickname of King's Lynn Football Club
King's Lynn F.C.
King's Lynn F.C. was an English football club based in King's Lynn, Norfolk. Established in 1879, they were wound up at the High Court on 25 November 2009 with debts of £77,000 and went out of business in December after a failed appeal...

, Burscough Football Club
Burscough F.C.
Burscough F.C. is an English football club based in Burscough, Lancashire. The club are members of the Northern Premier League Premier Division and groundshare with Skelmersdale United...

 and Runcorn Linnets Football Club
Runcorn Linnets F.C.
Runcorn Linnets F.C. are an English football club based in Runcorn, Cheshire. The club currently plays in the North West Counties Football League Premier Division, the ninth tier of English football, and is a full member of the Cheshire County Football Association...

 (formerly known as 'Runcorn F.C.' and Runcorn F.C. Halton). Barry Town F.C.
Barry Town F.C.
Barry Town FC are a football team based in Barry. They dominated the League of Wales during the 1990s, but finished bottom in 2003-04 and were relegated...

, the South Wales-based football team, also used to be nicknamed 'The Linnets'.

William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads....

 argued that the song of the Linnet provides more wisdom than books in the third verse of The Tables Turned:
"Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There's more of wisdom in it."

But the fellow English poet Robert Bridges
Robert Bridges
Robert Seymour Bridges, OM, was a British poet, and poet laureate from 1913 to 1930.-Personal and professional life:...

 used the Linnet instead to express the limitations of poetry - concentrating on the difficulty in poetry of conveying the beauty of a bird's song. He wrote in the first verse:
"I heard a linnet courting
His lady in the spring:
His mates were idly sporting,
Nor stayed to hear him sing
His song of love.--
I fear my speech distorting
His tender love."

The musical Sweeney Todd features the song "Green Finch and Linnet Bird," in which a young lady confined to her room wonders why caged birds sing:
"Green finch and linnet bird,
Nightingale, blackbird,
How is it you sing?
How can you jubilate,
Sitting in cages,
Never taking wing?"

External links

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