The greenfinch

David Chapman / 05 March 2013

The greenfinch is a common garden visitor that has long benefitted from our provision of food at bird tables but, ironically as a consequence of this assistance, its numbers have recently been in decline.

When compared to most other finches in our gardens the greenfinch has a large beak with which it opens chunkier seeds so it is a regular at bird tables throughout the year.

Watch them during spring and you will see the male greenfinches bickering by flicking their wings at each other, it seems that they use the yellow flashes in their wings to signal to competitors. Their squabbles erupt violently as they launch themselves towards each other, flapping and screeching in an effort to dominate the feeders and presumably impress the females. 

By contrast their display flight is a delightful manoeuvre: from a perch the male flies up into the air and then glides down on vibrating wings whilst singing a rattling and repetitive but very enthusiastic ‘dzeez-dzeez’.  Despite their aggression greenfinches are not territorial when it comes to nesting and often do so in loose groups. Each male defends only a small territory around the nest and their combined efforts serve to deter predators. 

Since the summer of 2005 a disease called 'trichomonosis', caused by a microscopic parasite has been affecting finches and the greenfinch has been particularly badly affected dropping by about 35%. The parasite affecting the birds infects their throats and prevents the birds from feeding properly.  Sick birds fluff out their plumage and appear very lethargic, often not flying away when approached.

The parasite is spread at bird tables and bird baths. There is no effective treatment for sick birds but it is important that we help prevent the spread of the disease. You can find out more about this on the RSPB website.

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