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Birds Guide

British finches

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The British finches are made up of several species of Finch which were formerly very popular as cage birds in Great Britain. Nowadays they are not commonplace, but are still keped by a few dedicated fanciers. British finches are often associated with Mules - a term used by cagebird breeders to refer to hybrids of finch species bred in captivity, such as that of a Goldfinch and Canary. There are now strict ringing regulations on British finches in places such as the UK, but they are still kept by aviculturists who care for them in much the same way as applies for canaries. The seed mixture in the UK known as British Finch & Mule is their basic diet.



In Victorian times British finches were hugely popular as cage birds throughout the British Isles, often replacing Canaries. Due to a lack of protection, thousands of birds were captured for pets every year.

Goldfinches were once caught in thousands to be kept as cage birds
Goldfinches were once caught in thousands to be kept as cage birds

Their popularity is reflected in the well known British rhyme, Don't Dilly Dally on the Way, in the line, "I walked behind wiv me old cock linnet..." referring to the Linnet, Carduelis cannabina.

Since the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it has been illegal to capture, attempt to capture or sell any British bird, and only those on Shedule 3 Part 1, may be sold if they are closed ringed and proof can be given that it was bred in captivity. Unfortunately, some people do still capture wild birds using cruel methods such as illegal bird lime.


British finches are quite simply birds in the Finch family which to this day live wild in the British Isles.

The species most popular include:

  • Genus Fringilla - Bramblings and chaffinches
    • Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
      Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) (Note: this species is often known in aviculture as the Bramble finch)
  • Genus Carduelis - Linnets, redpolls, goldfinches, greenfinches, some siskins.
    • Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)
      Redpoll (Carduelis sp.)
      Siskin (Carduelis spinus )
      Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis )
      Twite (Carduelis flavirostris)
      Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)
  • Genus Loxia - Crossbills
    • Common Crossbill (Loxia sp.) (Note: In Victorian times the Scottish Crossbill had not been identified)
  • Genus Pyrrhula - Bullfinches
    • Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

Mules and Hybrids

During the Victorian era, it was found that if a British finch, e.g. a Goldfinch, was crossed with a Canary, the result was an attractive looking, good singing bird. The resulting birds were sterile, but continue to be bred to this day under the name of Mules. Many clubs specialise in Mules. [1]

Also around this time a few people began to experiment crossing British finches. The resulting birds, including Siskin x Goldfinch and even such beauties as Bullfinch x Crossbill also remain to this day, often winning prizes at prestigious shows. The breeding of such hybrids can, however be notriously difficult. [2]

Other British birds

Not just finches were/are popular in British aviculture, and the following have had a following of fanicers for many years. They are all protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as are finches.


  • Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
    Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) (Note: This species is often known in aviculture as the Yellow Bunting)


  • Blackbird (Turdus merula)
    Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)


  • Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)
    Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
    Magpie (Pica pica)


  • Dunnock (Prunella modularis)
    Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
Birds such as Jackdaws were often kept by children who marvelled at their ability to talk in the days before parrots were readily available
Birds such as Jackdaws were often kept by children who marvelled at their ability to talk in the days before parrots were readily available

Other more unusual birds, including Redstarts and Flycatchers, are sometimes bred by specialised owners.

See also

External links

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