Red List 2022 – Number Three – Greenfinch

Greenfinch in the garden in 2014

Dear Readers, the greenfinch was always a rare visitor to my garden – I made this post in 2014, and that’s the last time that I actually saw one so close to home. I described the greenfinch as the ‘cargo planes’ of the finch world, compared to the Concord-like elegance of the chaffinches, but how I wish that one of these chunky birds would would pop in!

Greenfinches were already in trouble in the countryside – there aren’t so many scattered seeds about as there used to be, which has impacted on a whole range of small birds. And just as they were becoming a frequent sight in gardens they fell prey to trichomonosis, which has contributed to a fall in population of about 70% across the country. The British Trust for Ornithology has detailed advice, reproduced below – this is every bit as important to prevent the spread of bird flu.

Follow sensible hygiene precautions as a routine measure when feeding garden birds and handling bird feeders and tables. Empty and air dry any bird baths on a daily basis. Clean and disinfect feeders and feeding sites regularly. Suitable disinfectants that can be used include a weak solution of domestic bleach or other specially-designed commercial products. Carefully rinse all surfaces with clean water and air dry before using. Clean your feeders outside and maintain careful personal hygiene, including wearing gloves and making sure that brushes and buckets are not used for other purposes, as some diseases can affect human and domestic animal health.

Rotate positions of feeders in the garden to prevent the build up of contamination in any one area of ground below the feeders. If you see birds of any species that you suspect may be affected by disease in your garden, particularly if you see multiple sick or dead birds, we recommend that you stop feeding for at least two weeks in order to encourage birds to disperse, thereby reducing the chance of birds infecting each other at your feeding stations. Only reintroduce feeding as long as you are no longer seeing birds with signs of disease, and closely watch for any further signs. If you see further signs of disease, once again stop feeding. We also recommend leaving bird baths empty until no further sick or dead birds are seen. (BTO

Some farmers are also trying to help seed-feeding birds in general (many countryside birds, from yellowhammer to corn bunting are also on the Red List). They are doing this by providing winter feeding, and by enhancing the quality of the hedgerows where the birds nest, plus cutting down on herbicides and pesticides.

Greenfinch in spring in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Although greenfinches have a definite khaki-colour, in the right light they can glow a greenish-yellow, like the bird singing in a tree in spring in the photo above. In the right light, they can look like miniature parrots. They are feisty too, scaring off other birds at feeders and generally ruling the roost. Their heavy bills indicate that they can eat quite hearty seeds, unlike goldfinches with their delicate beaks. The song of the greenfinch rather sounds like someone running their finger over a comb, to me at least. See what you think (recorded by Stephan Risch in Croatia). It’s a very distinctive sound, and certainly made me look up when I heard it in the cemetery.

Poet John Heath-Stubbs (1918 – 2006) wrote six poems about British birds, one of which was about the Greenfinch, and specifically its song. Have a read, and then a listen. I think it’s rather good. Let’s hope that we’ll soon be hearing these birds singing in our gardens again.


On a May morning,
In the greening time
I heard a greenfinch in a college garden
Set to his jargon in a leafy tree;
The long flat call-note, which will be repeated
Through all the hot and dusty days of summer,
Subsumed in a desultory twitter:
The lazy greenfinch, thick-set country cousin
Of the trim, suburban, caged canary –
Green, green, green he calls through the green leaves.



3 thoughts on “Red List 2022 – Number Three – Greenfinch

  1. Anne

    I hope you get to see more of these birds. I looked up trichomonosis and found some interesting commonsense advice about feeding garden birds. I enjoy your choice of poem too.

  2. shannon

    Wonderful poem! Who knew that we would begin to have a kind of homesickness for literature and poetry that took for granted the diversity and quantity of flora and fauna in the world.

  3. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    I was only telling my friend yesterday how fascinating it is to watch the (literal) pecking order on the feeders and how the, usually gang of, goldfinches seem to keep the tits and other birds at bay, until the greenfinch arrives. They seem to compare gaping beaks and the greenfinch wins every time. I can see it saying, “yours may be sharper than mine, but mine’s much bigger” (and stronger no doubt)!


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