But this is not the case everywhere. The British Trust for Ornithology reports that “Until 2005, greenfinches were one of the most common birds at our garden feeders. However, hit by the disease finch trichomonosis, they are now a rarity in many gardens and their population has declined by about 35 per cent.” BTO makes the point that trichomonosis “can be spread between birds at garden feeding stations so it is very important to regularly clean feeders and bird tables”. Self and others please note.
The pointed beak makes this bird expert at extracting seeds from thistles, and feeders with niger seeds – which is where we often see them in the back garden. They were once called thistle finches. It took me a long time to recognise goldfinches, because I was expecting something a bit more… gold!
Wikipedia reports that “In Britain during the 19th century many thousands of goldfinches were trapped each year to be sold as cage-birds.” Thank heaven this practice of caging wild birds is no longer acceptable in the UK; some other parts of the world have yet to catch up.
Apparently, many goldfinches are resident in the UK but some migrate further south in winter, as far as Spain – just like many retired Brits.
Chaffinches are very common in the UK, a strikingly pretty bird – even the female, which is less brightly coloured than the male. This October example is probably a male after its autumn moult.
Interestingly, the name of this finch comes from its seed eating habit and the ‘chaff’ that is generated thereby.
Tree sparrows are much scarcer in the UK than the more common house sparrow. The RSPB differentiates them by the “chestnut brown head and nape (rather than grey), and white cheeks and collar with a contrasting black cheek spot”.
The RSPB reports that “the main populations are now found across the Midlands, southern and eastern England”, which explains why we never see these birds in Cheshire, and we did see this example at RSPB Fairburn Ings in Yorkshire.
Apparently, populations have very much declined in recent decades, no doubt significantly attributed to the reduction in the number of insects. Wake up, people, modern farming is slowly killing the natural world.
The dunnock, a rather undistinguished little brown job, is quite common in the UK, so little remarked upon.
In my youth it was called a hedge sparrow, and this term is still sometimes used.
This one conveniently posed on a post at the excellent RSPB Fairburn Ings, near Leeds. The variegated markings mean it is well worth a second look, and actually quite attractive.
For inexperienced spotters like me, they are easily confused with house sparrows and corn buntings.