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Common Linnet
Linaria cannabina

Passeriforme Order – Fringilidae Family

Length: 13-14 cm
Weight: 15-26 g

The Common Linnet is a beautiful small passerine, often seen in foraging groups in winter, and conspicuously perched at top of bushes during the breeding season.

The adult male in breeding plumage has bright chestnut upperparts with paler sandy or washed pinkish lower back and rump. Tail and uppertail-coverts are black with pale buff feather edges. On the upperwing, most coverts are chestnut, but the outer greater coverts are black, narrowly fringed pale buff. Alula, primary coverts and flight feathers are black. The primaries are broadly edged white, whereas secondaries and tertial are brown edged buffy-brown.

On the underparts, chin and throat are buffy-white. The upper breast and breast sides are crimson. Sides of belly and flanks are buffy-brown. Centre of breast and upper belly is pale buff or pale pink. Lower belly and undertail-coverts are white to buffy-white.

On the head, forehead, lores and supercilium are pale buff. The forecrown is crimson. Crown to lower nape, neck sides, cheeks and ear-coverts are pale grey, with fine blackish streaks on crown. There are a buffish-white submoustachial stripe and a slightly brown-streaked malar stripe.
The bill is blackish-brown with grey base. The eyes are dark brown. Legs and feet are pinkish-brown.

In non-breeding plumage, the male is browner, with buffish-brown head and darker brown upperparts with fine blackish streaking. The breast is brownish-buff streaked blackish-brown.

The female in breeding plumage is duller than male and lacks the crimson patches on breast and forecrown. The underparts are pale buffish-brown streaked dark brown on breast and flanks.
In non-breeding plumage, she is more heavily streaked.

The juvenile resembles female but it is browner above with dark streaks on head and upperparts. Underparts are pale sandy streaked dark brown.

We can find seven subspecies which differ in wing length, bill size and intensity of plumage coloration.
Among these different subspecies, the race “cannabina” is described above.
The race “bella” is slightly larger and the bill is thicker at base. The male has more cinnamon-brown upperparts than chestnut. The breast is rose-pink and the flanks tawny-buff. The female is paler and greyer than nominate.  

Race "bella"


The race “autochthona” resembles nominate but it has slightly longer wings, more slender bill, darker grey hindneck and dull dark brown mantle and scapulars with darker streaks.  

Race "autochthona" - Scotland

The Common Linnet’s usual call is a varied musical twitter, interspersed with whistling nasal notes “tett-tett-terrett”. This call is given from exposed perch.
In flight, it gives a short “tett” and a sweet “tsooeet” when perched. We can also hear an anxious call, a soft “di-ge-dee”. The song is a series of twittering phrases and fluty notes, whirring trills and “tsooeet” calls.



The Common Linnet frequents a wide variety of habitats such as lowland, open brushland with gorse (Ulex), hills with scattered trees, woodland, forest clearings and edges, borders of cultivated fields, scrub, plantations, orchards, parks and large gardens…
But it also occurs on open rocky hillsides, slopes, alpine meadows and valleys with low shrubs.
In non-breeding season, it can be found in coastal dunes, saltmarshes and along tideline.
This species usually occurs below 2000 metres of elevation, but it can breed higher, from 2300 up to 3600 metres according to the range.

The Common Linnet of race “autochthona” is found in Scotland and winters further south to Iberia.   
The nominate race “cannabina” occurs in W, C and N Europe, and W and SC Siberia. It winters in N Africa and SW Asia.
The race “bella” is found in WC Turkey to Caucasus, W Mongolia and NW China. It winters southwards to N Pakistan.
The four other races, mediterranea, guentheri, meadewaldoi and harterti are sedentary in their range around the Mediterranean Basin and on Balearic Islands, but also Madeira and Canary Islands.  

The Common Linnet is primarily a seed-eater, but it also feeds on other plant matter such as fruits and buds. It also takes some invertebrates, adult and larval insects.
The linnet usually forages on the ground by hopping, and also in the low vegetation. Unlike other Fringillidae species, it does not hang upside-down.

This species is often seen in pairs or in small groups, but they form larger flocks of several hundreds of birds outside the breeding season. They also forage in mixed-species flocks in open cultivated fields, in semi-desert areas and along the coasts.

The Common Linnet is monogamous and territorial. It defends the nesting-site and the close area around the nest. The pair-bonds last only for the season.
The male performs courtship displays. It ruffles the feathers of crown and breast to enhance the crimson-coloured patches. The wings are dropped, the tail fanned, while the bird sways slightly from side to side. It hops on the ground around the female while singing loudly.
Some chases are observed between mates. The male pursues the female in erratic flight through the low vegetation. They also touch their bill. Courtship feeding from male to female is regular, including during the incubation.

They may nest solitary or form loose, scattered colonies.
During the migrations, large flocks travel by day along the coasts and river valleys.

The Common Linnet performs fast, irregular undulating flight with “dancing” action, well visible when they are in flocks, dancing over the fields before to descend to the ground for feeding while twittering noisily.

The breeding season occurs between mid-April and early August. This species produces 2-3 broods per season.
The female collects nest-material accompanied by the male which guards her. She builds the nest fairly low, within 3 metres above the ground in thorny, dense bush, hedge, and occasionally in woodpiles.
The nest is cup-shaped, made with twigs, roots, moss and plant fibres. The cup is lined with plant down, fur and feathers.

The female collects nest materials while the male guards her.

The female lays 4-6 pale or bluish-white eggs with darker streaks and spots. She incubates alone during 11-13 days. The male feeds her during this period.
Both adults feed and care the chicks which remain at nest during 10-14 days. They still depend on parents for two weeks more after fledging.
Breeding success depends on weather conditions and predation by birds and mammals, and humans too.

The Common Linnet feeds primarily on seeds from numerous species of flowers and shrubs. It also consumes fruits and buds, and some invertebrates such as insects, adults and larvae, and small snails.
It forages on the ground and in low vegetation by hopping.

Male perched on colza

The Common Linnet is common to locally common throughout the range.
The species declined in late 20th century in C and NW Europe, due to intensification of agriculture, involving habitat destruction, and especially the hedgerows. However, there is evidence of recovery in some parts of the range, due to adaptation to alternative habitats such as parks and gardens.
The species is not currently threatened.