Serin: the bird profiles

Hannah
Hannah
Hannah
Hannah

I am particularly interested in garden wildlife which is why I did my Master's degree with a focus on "animal ecology". I am convinced that beneficial insects and wildlife are a sustainable and effective alternative to many of the products we use on our plants. I am also a passionate birdwatcher and rarely go for a walk without my binoculars.

Favourite fruit: kiwi, apple and redcurrant
Favourite vegetables: tomatoes and green beans

Do you know how to tell a male and female serin apart? Or where they live and what they eat? Here is everything you need to know about the European serin.

Serin at a watering hole
Serins are captivating birds with bright yellow plumage [Photo: stmilan/ Shutterstock.com]

The serin (Serinus serinus) is the smallest of the European species in the finch family known as Fringillidae. However, with their lemon-yellow plumage and high-pitched song, this perching bird is anything but inconspicuous. Well known for these characteristics, serins have been kept as caged birds in aristocratic circles since ancient times. This changed in the 15th century, when the canary (Serinus canaria), which was later used to breed many different canary birds, was brought from the Canary Islands to mainland Europe. Even though it is forbidden to catch wild birds in the UK under the Wildlife and Conservation Act, some people still keep serins in cages today. Read on to find out all about these lovely little songbirds, including what they eat and how to tell the difference between males and females.

Serin: key facts

SizeAbout 11 - 12 cm
WeightAbout 11 - 13 g
Breeding seasonApril - June
Life spanAbout 5 years
HabitatParks and gardens
Food preferenceSmall seeds, leaf and flower buds
ThreatsLack of natural habitat, bird trapping for sale

How to recognise the serin

The European serin is a small bird with a tiny, triangular finch beak. It is quite easy to spot due to both its colourful plumage and its piercing song. Its back and wings have grey-yellow streaks and their grey cheeks are framed by bright yellow lines. The front of their crown is also bright yellow. This yellow continues across the breast and belly, ending in white flanks. In flight, it is possible to identify a serin by its yellow rump.

People can sometimes confuse serins with yellowhammers. However, the yellowhammer is considerably larger, its head is almost completely yellow and its breast a reddish-brown.

Serin perched on branch
The serin is the smallest of the European finches [Photo: John Navajo/ Shutterstock.com]

What does the serin’s song sound like?

Serins have a very distinctive and easily recognisable sound. Their song is high-pitched, wild and jangly and consists of a rapid and unstructured verse. Their voice sounds a little like squeaky, unoiled gears.

How to recognise a young serin

Juvenile serins are slightly better camouflaged than their parents, making them more difficult to identify. Young serins have yet to develop their distinctive bright yellow colour characteristic of this species. Their plumage is beige to off-white with contrasting grey-brown stripes interspersed throughout.

How to identify a serin egg

Serin eggs are a pale blue-green with brown-red speckles and are between 15 and 18 millimetres in size. The female lays three to five eggs per season in a cup-shaped nest made of grasses, leaves, moss and other plant material. Serins use lots of feathers and animal hair to carefully pad out their nests.

How to tell the difference between male and female serins

As is often the case in nature, male serins are a little showier than their female counterparts. While the male has brighter, sulphur-yellow patches, the female has slightly duller, greenish-yellow patterns. The female’s breast is also criss-crossed with dark lines, while the male has a pure bright yellow breast.

Male and female serins
As is usually the case in nature, the males are a little more showy [Photo: WonderPhotoSpain/ Shutterstock]

What is the perfect habitat for serins?

Serins love semi-open landscapes with scattered trees and tall bushes which they can use to hide and build their nests in. They also like to use these places for singing. Serins mainly forage on the ground and are particularly fond of wild meadows with seed-bearing wild herbs. However, these birds have also adapted to urban landscapes, so it is not unusual to see them in parks, gardens or on the outskirts of towns.

Where do serins build their nests?

Serins are very careful and particular when it comes to selecting a nesting site. They like to build their nests somewhere well-hidden in a dense, high bush or tree that also offers a good view and a singing platform from which the male can mark his territory with his song. The female builds the nest all by herself.

When is the serin’s breeding season?

The serin’s breeding season extends from April to June. During this time, males and females remain faithful to each other and raise up to two broods. After laying the eggs, the female incubates them for about two weeks while the male guards them and the nest. After hatching, the parents feed their young with pre-softened small seeds and protein-rich small insects, such as aphids and caterpillars. Then, after 16 to 17 days, the young are developed enough to fly the nest and explore their surroundings on their own. The parents continue to support their young in their search for food for a few more days, before turning their attention to a possible second brood. From then on, the youngsters are left to fend for themselves.

Serin in a tree
Young serins are fairly inconspicuous [Photo: Roman Kolbabek/ Shutterstock.com]

Where do serins spend the winter?

In the UK, the European serin is merely a passage visitor to the southern parts of England. Though there have been occasional sightings of this bird throughout the year, for the most part it is only seen here in spring. In areas of Europe where they are more common, serins tend to leave their breeding grounds during the cold winter months and migrate to the western Mediterranean. As it is not too far to fly, many serins do not leave for their winter homes until November and return to their breeding grounds as early as March.

Help the serin!

As serins are uncommon in the UK, it is unlikely that any will be regular visitors to your garden. On the off chance that you live in an area where there are serins about and you would like to help support them in your garden, there are a few things you need to bear in mind. While this information applies to serins specifically, there are many other birds that enjoy similar foods, nesting sites and birdbaths.

Serin perched on flowering plant
Serins are rarely seen in the UK, but are more common in some areas of Europe [Photo: vogel-girlitz/ Shutterstock.com]

What do serins eat?

The serin’s diet consists mainly of fine seeds. One source of such seeds is wild herbs. However, serins also use flower and leaf buds in spring and smaller insects to feed their young. If you would like to offer these birds additional food, you should stick as closely as possible to their natural diet. A bird food mix consisting of grains such as sunflower seeds and finer wild herb seeds is suitable.

To support the birds in your garden during the summer months and the breeding season, we recommend putting out bird food.

Which birdhouses are suitable for serins?

Even if serins were more common in the UK, there would be almost no point in putting up a classic nest box for them– these are more suitable for cavity nesters such as blue tits or starlings. Instead, serins appreciate more natural nesting opportunities. If you do happen to have these birds near you, avoid thinning out any hedges and treetops in your garden too much. This offers birds like serins good hiding places for their nests.

What else can you do to support serins?

Serins depend on seeds and protein-rich insects, especially during the breeding season and when raising their young. Like many other songbirds, serins are suffering from the decline in the world’s insect populations. To help create an insect-friendly garden, we recommend planting insect friendly seeds. Aside from helping to increase the food supply for a variety of birds, it will also attract lots of useful pollinators to your garden which helps to control pest populations too.

You can make your garden more bird-friendly by placing a birdbath out for your feathered friends to drink from or bathe in. You can simply use a shallow bowl or a plant saucer for this. Serins love to bathe on hot days and often groom themselves in small puddles. However, places like these can quickly become contaminated and lead to the spread of infectious aviary diseases. So, if you do decide to place a birdbath in your garden, it is important to clean it and change the water on a regular basis. This is especially important in the summer months as the risk of infection increases in warm temperatures, so make sure to clean birdbaths and bird feeders daily during this time.

Serin bathing in water
Especially on hot days, serins love to bathe in water [Photo: Pavel Mikoska/ Shutterstock.com]

All garden birds are happy to have a little support in their daily struggle for food and other resources. If you want to learn about more of our feathered friends, take a look at the rest of our bird profiles and get to know others such as the barn swallow a little better.

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