With its powerful voice and frequent singing, the chaffinch is one of the birds most heard in woodland and parks.
The male chaffinch is very distinctive, with a pink face, breast and belly. The crown, nape and upper mantle are all a delicate blue-grey. The lower mantle is chestnut-brown above a grey-green rump ending in a long tail with white tail-sides. The bill is blue in breeding-season but dull pinkish-grey at other times. Legs are brown. It shows a broad, white wing-bar across the tips of its greater coverts. The female chaffinch is pale olive-brown above and greyish-white below. After the moult, the juvenile’s plumage is coloured similar to the female, but it has narrower wing-bars.
In Britain in the 19th century, the chaffinch was popular as a caged songbird, and people would bet on its singing.
Although a chaffinch’s song had a generally recognisable form, each male, in fact, has up to six song types that he will cycle through. Not all chaffinches sound the same. Because they learn their songs from the birds around them, flocks have regional dialects. Perched birds give a spirited, sharp “fink”.
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The chaffinch mostly eats seeds from the ground and invertebrates, especially caterpillars which it will feed to its young. It has a wedge-shaped bill that can crush seeds, typical of finches. However, the chaffinch bill is finer than those of other finches, enabling it to eat a wider variety of food.
The chaffinch is Britain’s second commonest bird and can be seen throughout the UK. It prefers more open woods to dense ones. However, it can be seen in all types of gardens, parks and woodland. In March and April, winter visitors will gather in flocks above farmland.
The chaffinch is usually easily recognisable by its two white wing-bars, seen as a white flash when in flight. Female chaffinches are about the same size as sparrows and have similar plumage. The main difference is the bold stripes on the female chaffinch’s back, which the house sparrow lacks. The chaffinch’s flight is strong and undulating, and it often alights with a few fluttering, sweeping turns. Chaffinches will often forage on the ground.
Chaffinches first breed when they are one year old. They are mainly monogamous.
The female will work alone to build a nest, usually in the fork of a tree. The nest will have a deep cup lined with thin roots, feathers and hair; and be camouflaged on the outside with lichen and moss. In Britain, most clutches are laid between late April and the middle of June. The female will lay 4-5 eggs which will be coloured blueish or reddish-grey with purple-brown splotches and scrawls.
Chaffinch from behind
Chaffinches generally live for around 3 years, although an individual in Switzerland was over 16 years old.
British and Irish chaffinch populations are resident, and their numbers increase in autumn and winter with a considerable influx from the north and north-east Europe.
In the UK, the chaffinch is estimated at around 5.4 million pairs. There is no evidence of any serious decline in numbers, and the species has a status of least concern.
There are no specific collective nouns for a group of Chaffinches, but you can use finch specific ones such as:
This small to medium sized finch is a breeding resident found throughout the UK apart from the far west of northern Scotland. A social bird, it often feeds in flocks throughout the year.
An exquisite little bird, distinguished by red face and characteristic bright yellow wing bands.
This medium sized finch is a specialised feeder with a chunky downwards curving beak which is crossed at its end giving rise to its descriptive name.