The linnet (Acanthis or Carduelis cannabina) is found in Europe as far north as southern Scandinavia and eastwards towards Siberia, and also in western Asia and North Africa. Some populations are migratory with the Mediterranean area, Iraq and Iran being preferred wintering places for northern birds.
Preferred habitats are forest edges and wooded areas, as well as cultivated land, heaths and dunes. They are also sometimes found in orchards.
Linnets are slim birds with quite long tails, their total length being around 12.5-14 centimetres (5-5.5 inches).
Male linnets have a chestnut back, brownish-black tail and wings, the primary feathers of the latter having white edges, greyish head and neck, crimson cap and breast, a spotted black throat, greyish-white belly and buff-chestnut flanks. There is typically a pale marking above and beneath the eye and a lighter spot in the centre of the dusky cheek.
The female linnet is similar in appearance to the male apart from the crimson colouring; however, in winter the males lose this colouring and the two sexes are more difficult to distinguish.
The legs are dark brown and the short bill is grey. The eyes are also dark brown.
The linnet spends much of its time on the ground or perched on low twigs. Linnets are active and restless, often making short upward flights and dropping down again almost immediately.
In winter linnets often form flocks that fly together with an undulating flight. In summer linnets maintain a strong pair bond and are rarely seen singly.
The linnet has an attractive song, which is why it was formerly a favourite cage bird. The song is a mixture of short notes and musical whistles. Sometimes the song bursts can be quite lengthy, but the more usual pattern is for short “verses” with marked spaces between them.
Linnets feed mainly on weed seeds, with some insects and larvae taken in summer, especially when feeding young birds.
Breeding takes place from April to September, after the males have performed a display that involves drooping the wings and spreading the tail which is then vibrated. Breeding often takes place in communal groups.
A nest is built in a bush or another suitable location, such as on a bank or a wall. It consists of plant material and moss with a soft lining. Four to six eggs are laid which are incubated mainly by the female. They take 11 to 12 days to hatch after which both parents feed the young by offering them regurgitated food from the throat. Fledging takes 11 to 13 days. A second brood is usual and sometimes a third.