This small seed-eater, only about two thirds the size of a Greenfinch or a cagebird Canary, is common throughout the Mediterranean region. It is the only widespread European member of a large Genus occurring mainly in Africa. Only the males are bright yellow on the head and breast but the feature to note in all but the youngest juveniles is the yellow rump, which is obvious in flight.

Some are kept as cagebirds but the high-pitched, ‘tinkling’ song cannot match that of the Canary (which derives from the Azores and Madeira, not the Canary Islands). In winter Serins can be found in sizeable, wandering flocks, mainly in open scrubby areas. At this season they can be confused with the northern Siskin which reaches Iberia in variable numbers each year. These are more arboreal and have striking yellow or pale wing bars and additional yellow at the sides of the inner tail. Fortunately, Siskins have a very distinctive, penetrating flight call, frequently uttered, whilst Serins make a buzzing trill or a soft ‘tu-ee’.

European serin. Birds chirping and singing in the spring garden

Another similar species occurring in Iberia is the montane Citril Finch. This is larger, longer-tailed and less streaked than the Serin and also has quite different calls. Some breed in the Spanish sierras and their range is expanding in response to new afforestation. Although considered rare in Portugal, they are easily overlooked and a few have reached the Algarve in at least two of the last four winters. It is uncertain whether these were of Spanish or Alpine origin.

In the south of their range, male Serins can commence singing in early February, often from exposed perches or during butterfly-like song flights. Further north these displays will start later but, in common with many other songbirds, spring activity is getting ever earlier as a result of global warming. Until recently, Serins were restricted to continental Europe but birds have been occurring with increasing frequency in southern Britain, where it is likely to become fully established.