Finches and Sparrows
With the exception of the goldfinch and the tree sparrow, the females in this group are plainer than the males. They all have short, stout, rather conical bills although there is a good deal of variation from one species to another.
The male greenfinch (5-¾ in.) has a dull green back with rather yellowish under-parts, and bright yellow in the wings and at the base of the tail. The beak is horn coloured.
The chaffinch (6 in.) is rather longer but less thick-set than the greenfinch. The cock is a strikingly handsome bird in the breeding season, with a blue-grey head, a rosy-pink breast, a chestnut back and a greenish rump. Two bold white bars in the wing help to distinguish both the male and the female. Its song has been rendered as ‘chip chip chip tell tell tell cherry erry erry tissi cheweeo’, and no words could get nearer to it than this.
The bullfinch (5-¾ in.) is bulky, like the greenfinch. The cock has a bright rosy breast (brighter than the chaffinch’s), black head, wings and tail, a grey back and a conspicuous white rump. The beak is short, black and enormously stout. It is a shy, retiring bird and often reveals its presence only by a soft clear call note which might be rendered as ‘peeu’.
The linnet (5-1/4 in.) is easiest to recognize in summer when the red forehead and breast of the male are unobscured by brown tips. The head is greyish, the back a chestnut-brown, and the forked tail and wings are fringed with white. The female never develops the red, and both the female and the juvenile have rather streaky breasts. The twittering song is agreeable and varied, and in the past linnets were very popular as cage birds.
The goldfinch (4-3/4in.) has also a long history as a cage bird, both on account of its handsome appearance and its cheerful, liquid twitter. The face is scarlet with dull while cheeks and the top of the head black; the wings are black and vivid yellow, the rump white. It is impossible to confuse the goldfinch with any other species. It frequently nests in apple, pear and horse chestnut trees, usually in the top fork, and is not uncommon in gardens in southern England.
The house sparrow is 5-3/4 in. long. The male has dark brown upper parts, streaked with buff, a dark grey crown which is brown at the sides, white cheeks and underparts, and a black bib which is much reduced in winter. The female and juvenile are a paler brown, and lack both the bib and the grey on the crown.
The tree sparrow (5-½ in.) is a smaller, neater, much less evenly distributed relative of the house sparrow. It resembles a cock house sparrow, but the entire crown is chocolate-brown and there is a small black patch on the whitish cheeks. The sexes are alike.