It is a small, short-tailed finch, 11.5-12.5 cm (4.5-4.9 in) long with a wingspan of 20-22.5 cm (7.9-8.9 in) and a weight of 9-12 g. The bill is short, conical and sharply pointed and is pale yellow with a dark tip. The adult male is largely brown above with darker streaks. It has a red forehead, a black chin and, during the breeding season, pink on the breast and face. The flanks are buff with dark streaks and the belly and undertail-coverts are whitish. There are two pale bars on the wing. The adult female is similar but lacks the pink on the breast and face and has less streaking on the flanks. The juvenile has a pale head with no red forehead and less black on the chin.

Habitat and Distribution

It breeds in most of Britain and Ireland although absent from parts of southern and central England. It nests along the North Sea coast from north-east France to Germany and has spread into Denmark, southern Norway, and south-west Sweden. Alpine birds often move to lower elevations. In Britain, it occurs in lowland areas in winter. Some British birds move south to mainland Europe, reaching as far as Iberia.It inhabits open woodland, scrubland, farmland and dunes, also conifer plantations.


It usually forages in flocks. It feeds in trees mostly, but also feeds on the ground, especially in winter as the supply of seeds becomes reduced. The diet includes small seeds such as those of birch, alder, and grasses. Fruit, buds, and invertebrates are also eaten.


Breeding pairs form in late winter. They often nest close together in a loose colony. The cup-shaped nest is built by the female, usually in a shrub or tree. It is made of twigs and plant stems with an inner layer of roots, grass, moss, leaves, and a lining of feathers, wool, and hair. Two to seven eggs are laid. They are pale bluish or greenish with reddish or brownish blotches and streaks. The female incubates the eggs for 12-15 days while being fed by the male. The young birds are fed by both parents.

Calls and Songs

The commonest call is a harsh, metallic, staccato chuch-uch-uch-uch given in flight or while perched. It also has a plaintive alarm call. The trilling song combines the flight call with a buzzing rattle and is often given in an undulating song-flight.