LINNET, O. Eng. Linete and Linet-wige, whence seems to have been corrupted the old Scottish “Lintquhit,” and the modern northern English “Lintwhite”—originally a somewhat generalized bird’s name, but latterly specialized for the Fringilla cannabina of Linnaeus, the Linota cannabina of recent ornithologists. This is a common song-bird, frequenting almost the whole of Europe south of lat. 64°, and in Asia extending to Turkestan. It is known as a winter visitant to Egypt and Abyssinia, and is abundant at all seasons in Barbary, as well as in the Canaries and Madeira. Though the fondness of this species for the seeds of flax (Linum) and hemp (Cannabis) has given it its common name in so many European languages, it feeds largely, if not chiefly in Britain on the seeds of plants of the order Compositae, especially those growing on heaths and commons. As these waste places have been gradually brought under the plough, in England and Scotland particularly, the haunts and means of subsistence of the linnet have been curtailed, and hence its numbers have undergone a very visible diminution throughout Great Britain. According to its sex, or the season of the year, it is known as the red, grey or brown linnet, and by the earlier English writers on birds, as well as in many localities at the present time, these names have been held to distinguish at least two species; but there is now no question among ornithologists on this point, though the conditions under which the bright crimson-red colouring of the breast and crown of the cock’s spring and summer plumage is donned and doffed may still be open to discussion. Its intensity seems due, however, in some degree at least, to the weathering of the brown fringes of the feathers which hide the more brilliant hue, and in the Atlantic islands examples are said to retain their gay tints all the year round, while throughout Europe there is scarcely a trace of them visible in autumn and winter; but, beginning to appear in spring, they reach their greatest brilliancy towards midsummer; they are never assumed by examples in confinement. The linnet begins to breed in April, the nest being generally placed in a bush at no great distance from the ground. It is nearly always a neat structure composed of fine twigs, roots or bents, and lined with wool or hair. The eggs, often six in number, are of a very pale blue marked with reddish or purplish brown. Two broods seem to be common in the course of the season, and towards the end of summer the birds—the young greatly preponderating in number—collect in large flocks and move to the sea-coast, whence a large proportion depart for more southern latitudes. Of these emigrants some return the following spring, and are recognizable by the more advanced state of their plumage, the effect presumably of having wintered in countries enjoying a brighter and hotter sun.
Nearly allied to the foregoing species is the twite, so named from its ordinary call-note, or mountain-linnet, the Linota flavirostris, or L. montium of ornithologists, which can be distinguished by its yellow bill, longer tail and reddish-tawny throat. This bird never assumes any crimson on the crown or breast, but the male has the rump at all times tinged more or less with that colour. In Great Britain in the breeding-season it seems to affect exclusively hilly and moorland districts from Herefordshire northward, in which it partly or wholly replaces the common linnet, but is very much more local in its distribution, and, except in the British Islands and some parts of Scandinavia, it only appears as an irregular visitant in winter. At that season it may, however, be found in large flocks in the low-lying countries, and as regards England even on the sea-shore. In Asia it seems to be represented by a kindred form L. brevirostris.
The redpolls form a little group placed by many authorities in the genus Linota, to which they are unquestionably closely allied, and, as stated elsewhere (see Finch), the linnets seem to be related to the birds of the genus Leucosticte, the species of which inhabit the northern parts of North-West America and of Asia. L. tephrocotis is generally of a chocolate colour, tinged on some parts with pale crimson or pink, and has the crown of the head silvery-grey. Another species, L. arctoa, was formerly said to have occurred in North America, but its proper home is in the Kurile Islands or Kamchatka. This has no red in its plumage. The birds of the genus Leucosticte seem to be more terrestrial in their habit than those of Linota, perhaps from their having been chiefly observed where trees are scarce; but it is possible that the mutual relationship of the two groups is more apparent than real. Allied to Leucosticte is Montifringilla, to which belongs the snow-finch of the Alps, M. nivalis, often mistaken by travellers for the snow-bunting, Plectrophanes nivalis. (A. N.)
- E.g. Fr. Linotte, Ger. Hänfling, Swed. Hämpling.