I always think of Greenfinches as the cargo planes of the finch world, compared to the Concord-like elegance of the Goldfinches and Chaffinches who normally visit the garden. Greenfinches are heavy-set birds with jutting brows, which makes them appear ‘a bit ‘ard ‘, as my London relatives would say. Add to this the weighty beak, and the Greenfinch’s dominance on the birdfeeders, and you have a bird of some substance. This little chap dropped in a few days before Christmas, and was gone before I could get my camera properly focused, as you will no doubt notice.
These creatures are not the psychedelic green of the parakeets – they are more towards the khaki end of the spectrum. However, in the early light when these photos were taken, the bird has a kind of unearthly glow. The yellow feathers in the wing help to identify the bird, which otherwise might be mistaken for a particularly well-fed female sparrow.
Greenfinches are common in some people’s gardens, but not in mine. I am always much cheered when one puts in an appearance. I would love to see the ‘butterfly’ display of the male, who uses exaggeratedly deep, slow wingbeats in order to impress the females with his strength and powers of endurance, but I have not (yet) been lucky enough. Mark Cocker, in ‘Birds Britannica’, describes how the display is accompanied by ‘a liquid twittering song, and often terminates in a drawn-out sneezing note’. Definitely something to watch out for once spring arrives.
This bird has been known as the ‘GreenFynche’ since about 1400. It was so common in London at the turn of the century that the birds were trapped by the thousands, and sold in the shops on Seven Dials for a few pennies each. I am always puzzled that people eat these creatures – surely there is barely a mouthful of food on each of those little bodies? But then, as we know, all kinds of songbirds are a delicacy even today, and many of our migratory birds fall prey to the taste for such food in Malta and Cyprus and many other Mediterranean countries.
In recent times Greenfinches have become much more common in suburban areas than in agricultural areas, staying fiercely loyal to particular birdtables, and relishing the abundance of Leylandii hedges for roosting and nesting. For many years they have been in the top ten commonest birds in the RSPB’s annual bird survey. However, there has been a falling off recently due to an outbreak of Trichomonosis, a protozoan disease which has already killed off over a third of the Greenfinches in affected areas. This is yet another reason to ensure that feeders are cleaned regularly, and if you are interested in more details, there is information from the RSPB website here.Fortunately, the Greenfinch in my garden seemed full of vim, ready to fight off any delicate Chaffinch or dandy-ish Goldfinch.
It is a real pleasure to walk to the kitchen, bleary-eyed and in need of a cup of tea, and to suddenly be jolted into action by the sight of an unfamiliar visitor on the bird feeder. Much as I love my ‘regular’ birds, I am also delighted when someone unusual turns up. After all, isn’t the festive season about providing hospitality to wanderers of all descriptions?