Saturday, 18 February 2017

Bird of the week - Twite

Here's a little bird I hadn't seen before this winter.  The twite is a small brown finch similar to a linnet.  This flock of 80 or so birds has been at Druridge Bay all winter, sometimes mingling with the shore larks.  This was earlier in the week, the closest I have seen them, but the light was poor.  They make tinkling metallic calls as they fly around in a flock. Although it is a classic LBJ (little brown job), close up the twite has a gingery face and the male has a mauve/pink rump.  The amount of white underneath varies considerably.

These are males showing the pink rump.

Then I went back yesterday in sunshine, so here are a few more photos.

The twite is Linaria flavirostris, meaning the yellow-billed linen weaver.  In French it is Linotte à bec jaune, the yellow-billed linnet.  It has a yellow beak in winter and a grey beak in summer.

Thomas Bewick knew the twite as the mountain linnet.  In his day twites nested locally - the bird he drew for A History of British Birds (1797) was shot(!) at Callerton Fell, about 10km due west of here.  No digital photography in those days.

Archibald Thorburn painted a twite (R) and a snow bunting (L) in a setting almost exactly as I saw them.

In the UK the twite is red listed.  There is a fairly small breeding population in Scotland and a tiny breeding population in the southern Pennines.  The Scottish birds mostly winter on the coast of Scotland and here while the English birds winter on the coast in eastern England.  The birds I saw might be Scottish or from Scandinavia.

The main reason for the drastic decline in twite numbers is the change in agriculture which has led to destruction of hay meadows and removal of hedges.  Twites are exclusively seed feeders - even the chicks are fed on seeds - so the birds can't survive if the right seed plants aren't available.  The RSPB have a successful support programme for the tiny English population in the south Pennines.

This is where twites breed in Europe (from the EBCC Atlas).  They also live in central Asia.

You can watch a short BTO video on identification of linnet and twite here.  You can also watch an i.d. video from the RSPB Twite Recovery Project here.  Listen to recordings of twites here.  Listen to the BBC Radio 4 Tweet of the Day here.

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