Inhabits open waters of lakes and medium to large rivers. Forms large aggregations in backwaters and other still waters during winter. Adults occur in shoals near the surface. Juveniles leave shores and occupy a pelagic habitat, feeding on plankton, drifting insects or invertebrates fallen on the water surface. Adults feed mainly on plankton, including crustaceans and insects. Excellent as bait for carnivorous fishes. Its flesh is tasty.
Europe and Asia: most of Europe north of Caucasus, Pyrénées and Alps, eastward to Ural and Emba. Naturally absent from Iberian Peninsula, Adriatic and Aegean basins (except Maritza drainage), Italy, Ireland, Great Britain (except southeast), Norway and Scandinavia north of 67°N, Caspian basin south of Volga. In Anatolia, Marmara basin. Locally introduced in Spain, Portugal and Italy.