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A guide to red-breasted birds in the UK
By Ark Wildlife
19th July 2022
Last Updated: 19th April 2023
When you think of red-breasted birds in the UK, you’ll most likely think of the iconic robin. The loveable little bird will always draw a smile when it comes down to scout around the upturned earth for worms when you’re gardening. But there are other red-breasted birds to spot. We’ve put together a guide to explain where you can find British birds with a red chest, along with a little bit of info on them.
Types of red breasted birds:
The robin is around 12–14 cm in length and has a signature bright-red breast, so there’s no doubt when identifying this little friend. In a winter garden, against the snow and ice, the orangey-red breast really stands out, and is a favourite on Christmas cards. Juvenile robins are harder to spot amongst the garden scenery as they’re brown all over, with mottled golden flecks. Robins are found across the UK in gardens, parks, hedgerows and woodland.
Many people feel drawn to robins, probably because robins don’t seem at all phased by human contact. The robin has, therefore, become a special bird to spot for many. We don’t want to damage your image of the robin as they’re usually very friendly, but male robins have been known to fight to the death over territory!
Robins usually live for around two years, on average. Sadly, only around 40% of fledged birds will survive from one year to the next.
The male chaffinch is around 14.5 cm in length and has a pink chest with a brown back and a blue-grey crown. Females miss out on that enviable splash of colour; they’re brown with white shoulder patches. Chaffinches are common across the UK, but there are more of them in central, eastern and southern England. The lifespan of a chaffinch is estimated to be around three years, although certain chaffinches have been known to live to 14 years.
Chaffinches are so common in the UK as they’re so adaptable, found in gardens, woodland, parks and farmland.
Chaffinches eat insects and seeds, but they especially love to eat delicious sunflower hearts and peanuts. Scatter some on a ground feeder as chaffinches often prefer to eat under the bird table. Try using a ground bird feeder cage to keep these birds (and their food) safe from predators.
The male bullfinch is around 16 cm in length and has a bright pinkish-red breast and cheeks, white rump, black cap and tail and grey back. As with many birds, the female isn’t so colourful. You might be lucky enough to have bullfinches visiting your garden, but they’re more often spotted in woodland. In summer, they gather into small flocks, so you’ll often see a few in a small vicinity. Bullfinches eat shoots, tree buds and flowers in the spring and more seeds in the summer and winter. They feed invertebrates to their chicks for extra nutrition.
The average lifespan for a bullfinch is two years, and they mate for life. Their bird call is soft and low, so you’ll have to stay quiet and still to hear it.
Bullfinches love to feed on sunflower seeds, so make sure you have a plentiful supply if you want to attract them to your garden.
Another red-breasted bird in the UK is the crossbill male, which is around 14–20 cm in length and mainly brick-red in colour. The crown and rump are the most vivid red, while the tail and wings are brown. The female is a duller green-grey and juvenile crossbills are grey/brown.
Crossbills can be found across the UK in noisy groups or flocks, but are most common in the north and south. Their diet of pine seeds means that they’re found in coniferous woodland, but if there are a number of pine trees around, they can also be spotted on heathland.
As crossbills often set up home in conifer forests, they can be hard to spot as they’ll often roost way up high up in the treetops. The crossbill is named for its bill crossover, which makes it easier to get to the seeds in pinecones. The lifespan of this chunky finch is around two years (with breeding usually at one year).
The male linnet is around 13.5 cm in length and transforms for the breeding season: usually a subtle grey colour, the male gains a dashing red breast with red forehead. Linnets have a lifespan of two to three years. Over a century ago, people would take linnets from the wild to keep as pets due to their beautiful bird song.
The linnet can be spotted on farmland and heathland across the UK. But sadly, the UK linnet population is estimated to have declined by 57% between 1970 and 2014, mainly due to agricultural intensification. They’re now classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2021).
Linnets feed on small seeds, but also on some insects during the summer months. Linnets breed on heathland and hedgerows and also in gardens with bushes.
The redstart is around 14cm in length, with a life expectancy of two years. The males have a rusty-red breast in the summer, similar to the robin, but with the addition of a black band across their face. They visit the UK from north Africa and western Asia between April and May.
Redstarts can be spotted in the north and west of the UK, with larger numbers in Wales. Found in open birch and oak woodland and hedgerows, they like mature trees where they nest in holes in the trunk. It’s not common to spot one in your garden. Redstarts like to eat insect larvae and berries, so if you want to entice them to your garden, hang suet balls, such as our suet balls with insects, and supply mealworms.
Red-breasted birds can be a cheery sight in the UK, especially on a dull grey day. There’s excitement in seeing a dash of colour in your garden or out on a walk as you hope to identify an uncommon bird.
If you want to attract a certain type of red-breasted bird to your garden, you can filter our Ark bird food selection by type of bird. Do give us a call on freephone 0800 085 4865 if you need any help.