Here is the final bunch of the UK’s top 10 garden birds for you to meet!
Goldfinch: green status
Another small bird with a very strong getup, the goldfinch has white cheeks but with a bright red face, and a brilliant golden yellow patch on its wing. In fact, Chaucer wrote in the 14th century “Gaily dressed he was as is a goldfinch in the woods”. Indeed. They like to hang out in little groups, and certainly in my garden I never see one, they always seem to be in pairs or fours.
Their food of choice is a seed or few from thistles or teasels – they can get their long thin finch beak into the heads and get out seeds that other birds can’t reach. In the winter they will come to garden feeders, apparently they particularly like niger seeds although I’ve never offered the birds in my garden any of these! Others chose to migrate down to the sunnier climes of Spain.
Goldfinches have a beautiful lyrical song, and it is for this reason, as well as their appearance, that thousands of birds were caught and kept caged during the 19th century. One of the first campaigns by the RSPB was to stop this tradition.
Collared dove: green status
The collared dove looks pretty smart, all pale pinky-brown with a neat black collar line round its neck. They are smaller than the wood pigeon, but in flight the proportions of its body can make it look like the silhouette of a sparrow hawk, causing other smaller birds to raise the alarm.
Although now a familiar garden sight, they are in fact the only of our top 10 birds that are not native, coming in the 1950s from the Middle East, and spreading rapidly. Young male birds are programmed to move westwards once they are fully grown, which could explain why the collared dove numbers in Europe expanded so quickly once they were introduced.
Chaffinch: green status
Another colourful finch, the male chaffinch has a rusty pinky brown tummy, with mottled brown and grey feathers, a smart blue-grey cap, and when they fly you see a striking flash of white on their wings and tail. The female is similar but with a soft brown tummy rather than the pink. They are very vocal (there are regional dialects) constantly singing and chattering away so you often hear them first, and then see that flash of white as they fly off. Amazingly, since 1569 the people of Flanders (Belgium) have played a sport called ‘Vinkensport’ in which two male chaffinches are made to compete for the highest number of bird calls in an hour. Weird.
Over winter, the population increases with 10-20 million coming over from Scandinavia and Western Europe to find food. These birds usually head for open farmland, while our resident chaffinches tend to opt for woods and hedgerows. The resident population numbers took a dive in the 1950s with the change in farming practices and chemicals affecting food resources, but numbers are now recovering. They tend to look for food on the ground, seeds and small invertebrates such as caterpillars.
They moult once a year after the summer, the new autumn feathers have duller ends but by the time the breeding season comes round again in spring, these ends have worn off and the bright rusty colour is back, ready to impress those females.