Male serin feeding

Serins: our very own canary, relatively speaking

It may appear strange that last month I wrote about birdlife during winter and this month I’m already discussing springtime. At the time of writing, we are experiencing a real cold northerly wind here in the Algarve, but that doesn’t mean springtime isn’t already upon us. Soon we will be leaving the Algarve winter behind and the summer birdlife will be all around us.

Already the almond trees are in blossom, many other plants are in flower and the birdlife is starting to change too. Many people have mentioned sighting barn swallows which seem to be returning earlier every year, but for me the sound of an often-overlooked bird is the first sign that spring is on its way.

Small brightly coloured finches are busy announcing the arrival of spring. The European serin (often referred to as just serin with the scientific name of Serinus serinus) is a close relation to the Atlantic canary (found in the Azores, Madeira and, of course, the Canary Islands) and, in fact, serin is actually French for canary.

The serin is smaller than the Atlantic canary at around 12cm in length. Although often missed, they are easily identified due to their streaks of grey and green with a bright yellow breast and head. The male is considerably more yellow than the female. Both male and female have very short stubby beaks. In flight, you will easily recognise their bright yellow rump and forked tail. They can easily be misidentified as a similar looking siskin (which can also be seen in flocks during their winter visit), however, the siskin has a dark black cap and a much longer, pointy beak.

From mid-January, you can often hear serins perched on high branches and wires twittering away with their fast trill song often referred to as a ‘crushing glass’ sound. Usually, serins are quite independent, however, during the winter months they can be seen in flocks, occasionally merged with other finches. I am lucky to currently have a flock of approximately 30 birds in the garden all feeding on the heads of fresh grass and weeds.

Serins are ground feeders and can be easily seen eating at the sides of paths and tracks where fresh growth has occurred during the damper months of winter. Their main diet is buds and seeds but during the breeding season they can also eat insects for extra protein.

Although they start to sing this early in the year, breeding normally takes place much later in May when the female will build her nest amongst thick trees and bushes. She will lay between three to five tiny pale blue eggs with purple spots measuring just 17mm long which normally hatches after 13 days of incubation. Both parents will take on the duty of feeding the young.

They are widespread within the Algarve and can be found almost anywhere. I even discovered a feeding flock on the Ludo walking trail last week. Have you spotted one and managed to capture a photograph? Please share it on the “Algarve Photo Fun” Facebook group.

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Craig Rogers is a wildlife and nature photographer from Wales now living in the Algarve, offering photography workshops. For more information, photographs and his blog visit www.craigrogers.photography

Male serin feeding
Male serin singing from an oak tree
Female serin singing