NATURE NOTES - It’s a linnet, isn’t it?

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CALL me old fashioned but I miss the old-style bales in fields – so reminiscent of my past.

In the mists of time I can remember loading the tractors with freshly baled hay – in reality spending more time looking at the wildlife that had been disturbed by the combine than actually working! Then back to the farm and packing it all the bales neatly into the barn – as night fell the air was full of bats giving everyone something to talk about before dragging the imperial carcass to bed. Nowadays we see fields with ‘giant’ black plastic rounds of haylage and silage! These are nowhere near as wildlife friendly as the good old open hay bales but time and technology moves on!

The linnet – a once common farmland bird like several others has had an alarming reduction in its numbers. Linnets are found on farmland wherever there is a plentiful supply of seeds throughout the year.

The British Trust for Ornithology found the population of linnets fell by 54% between 1970 and 1998. This is largely the result of loss of seed sources on farmland. In its summer plumage, the male Linnet has a powder-blue head, red forehead and a rich reddish-brown back. In all other plumages though, the red disappears and the other colours are more subdued though still faintly discernible. Good identifying features are white edges to some feathers that create white panels in the primaries and at the base of the tail. The only other bird to show this pattern is the Twite, (a quite similar bird) but the Linnet also has a greyer head, patterned throat and dark bill.

In flight, the Linnet shows a series of white lines along the primaries, again matched only by twite. It’s months since I’ve seen twite. The twite looks very much like a juvenile Linnet since it has the same white panels in the wing and tail. In winter though the twite is easily distinguished since it has a very bright, pale, yellow bill that stands out against an otherwise somber head. Just to confuse matters even further in certain lights the bill of a Linnet can look quite pale. In summer the twite’s bill is darker so you must rely on other features: the Twite is generally darker and drabber than a Linnet with a neater pale bar across the wing and a plainer, buff face and throat with hardly any evidence of dark and light moustchial lines. Summer is also the time when the pink rump of the male twite is most obvious.

See no confusion whatsoever now!