Until recently this small, solitary, old world leaf warbler was classified as being a member of the family Sylviidae, but following extensive research and reclassification, now falls within the family of Phylloscopidae.
The adult chiffchaff is predominantly mid brown tinged with olive green to the upper body and wings and a much paler yellowy buff brown to the underparts. The top of the head and nape mirror the colour of the upperparts whilst the sides of the neck, chin and throat are similar in colour to that of the breast, belly, flanks and vent. Above the eye there is a narrow pale stripe extending from the base of the bill rearwards; this is commonly referred to as the supercilium. From immediately behind the eye a dark stripe extends back to the nape. The iris is dark brown and there is a subtle thin white crescent under the eye. The wings are short and round and the primary and secondary flight feathers are brown, as are the tail feathers. The legs are thin and black and the bill a very dark brown. Although the adult female is smaller than the adult male, they are identical in plumage and colouration. Juveniles are similar to adults but browner to the upperparts.
Common Chiffchaff perched on a branch
The name of the bird derives from its loud often repeated song of, ‘chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff’. The call is a single syllable, ‘hweet’.
Luca Baghino, XC639278. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/639278.
Chiffchaffs are insectivorous and extremely active during daylight, feeding mainly on flies and foraging from leaves amongst trees and bushes, as well as on the ground. Their normal daily intake of flies will usually be equal to a third of their bodyweight.
Chiffchaff with insect
There are six sub-species of the common chiffchaff with the common chiffchaff (Siberia) being monotypic, that is to say this particular subspecies is unique and has no other related subspecies. Whilst the common chiffchaff (common) is polytypic, meaning having a number of different variants and in this case it relates to a further five variants. The distribution range extends across the whole of Europe, including the United Kingdom, Canary Islands and the Baltic States, through Russia and the Caucasus, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, through north, west and east Africa, the Indian sub-continent, Mongolia, China, South Korea and Japan. Those birds who breed within the northern most areas of the range migrate south in late autumn.
Chiffchaff in flight
During migration it is often found roosting in bushes and areas of low lying vegetation near water and when returning early to its breeding grounds the common chiffchaff is a prolific singer and one of the earliest species to arrive at the onset of Spring. Weighing only seven grams on average, the chiffchaff is a tiny compact bird recognised by its distinctive and frequently repeated song. Careful observation is required to differentiate it from fellow warblers such as the Willow Warbler or Wood Warbler. The common chiffchaff has a unique downward bobbing movement of its tail which is a further aid to identification. During the summer it is more likely to be found in woodlands and parks and occasionally gardens with taller trees.
Common chiffchaffs pair at the beginning of each breeding season which generally lasts between April through to August. A different mate is chosen each breeding season. The breeding range in the main, encompasses Europe and Russia. The adult male will arrive at the breeding grounds up to three weeks prior to the female and choose a territory which it will fiercely protect from all other birds. Once a mate is chosen the female alone will construct a small dome shaped nest out of grasses which is often lined with other soft vegetation and feathers. The nest is built low down in dense vegetation such as thickets or bramble bushes. In the southern and central breeding areas it is normal for the female to produce two broods per season whilst in the cooler north, with shorter summers, one brood is produced annually. Each brood will consist of between 2 – 7 cream coloured eggs with dark spots which are incubated by the female for an average of thirteen days. Fledging occurs some two weeks after hatching and whilst the hatchlings are in the nest they are predominantly cared for and fed by the female with the male taking almost no part at all.
Chiffchaff collecting material to construct a nest
A juvenile Chiffchaff
The average life expectancy for a chiffchaff is up to five years although there is a significant mortality rate during the first twelve months after hatching.
10cm to 11cm
15cm to 21cm
6g to 10g
An elusive reedbed-dwelling songbird, the moustached warbler breeds in marshlands across southern Europe. Rare reports of breeding in the UK do exist, although no sightings of the species have been confirmed in Britain since the 1940s.
This small but long tailed, large headed warbler, is a resident of the Balearic Islands in the western Mediterranean where it is common, although is not present on the island of Menorca.
Widespread across southern Europe and North Africa, Sardinian warblers are known for their chattering, fast-paced song, commonly heard throughout Mediterranean areas.
Yellow-browed warblers are rare winter visitors to the UK, with fewer than 30 birds arriving after their breeding season in Siberia has drawn to a close. A few hundred sightings of these tiny migrants are also recorded in passage each year, along the east coast of Scotland, and eastern and southern coasts of England.
Wood warblers are tuneful breeding visitors, arriving in British woodlands from April onwards. Well hidden in their preferred tree-filled landscapes, their bright yellow breast makes them easily distinguishable from other similar warbler species.
The diminutive Willow warbler is a small bird from the Leaf Warbler family Phylloscopidae which contains 80 species. Willow warblers are primarily insectivorous and are energetic, constantly moving birds that dart their tree and hedgerow habitats. They possess soft and subtle green plumage with a pale green-grey back, wings and tail with a pale grey stomach that has a slight yellow tinge.
Whitethroats are active warblers that can be seen and heard in hedgerows around Britain during spring and summer months, as they raise their young and busily forage for insects. Each autumn, they depart for wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa, returning in April to breed once more.
Widespread and common breeding visitors to the UK, sedge warblers arrive on marshlands and reedbeds in April, and spend up to 6 months on British soil (or wetlands, to be more accurate), raising their young, before preparing for lengthy migrations to wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa each autumn.
Savi’s warblers are long-distance migratory songbirds, breeding across continental Europe and north-west Africa, and spending winters in West Africa. Extremely rare in the UK, with only around 5 breeding pairs a year, Savi’s warblers are mostly found in marshlands and habitats with dense reed cover.
A wetland songbird with a rather unremarkable appearance, the reed warbler is a spring visitor to the UK, raising young in wetland reedbeds across England and Wales before returning to African wintering grounds at the end of the summer.
Seen only very occasionally in the UK, the marsh warbler is a long-distance migrant, breeding across central and eastern Europe and spending winters in south-eastern Africa. Sightings in Britain are limited to coastal areas, where up to only around 8 pairs are recorded as breeding each year.
Smaller and less common than the closely related whitethroat, the Lesser Whitethroat, is a hard-to-spot breeding visitor to the UK, due to its unremarkable plumage and favoured habitats of dense hedgerow vegetation.
A well-camouflaged visitor to grasslands and reedbeds, grasshopper warblers arrive in Britain to breed each spring. You may stand a better chance of hearing one than actually getting a sighting, as their secretive nature of creeping through vegetation makes them almost impossible to spot.
Garden warblers are unobtrusive, inconspicuous songbirds that are most commonly found foraging in woodlands during spring and summer months, before heading south to wintering grounds in Africa each autumn.
Known for its distinctive melodic call, the Dartford Warbler is a charismatic bird that makes its home in the heathlands of Western Europe. Its striking grey and red plumage combined with a resilient, non-migratory nature make this small bird a symbol of the enduring beauty of its native habitat.
A particularly hard-to-spot bush warbler, the Cetti’s warbler bred in Britain for the first time in the 1970s and now is an established species, with an expanded breeding range in wetland reedbeds around the southern, eastern and south-western coasts of England, and the south and north coasts of Wales.
Within its range and to differentiate it from other similar species, it is often referred to as an Eurasian Blackcap. This sexually dichromatic, stocky little warbler, is a member of the genus Sylvia and is sometimes nicknamed the Northern Nightingale due to its beautiful and frequent song.
Aquatic warblers are rare and temporary migrants to parts of southern England each autumn, en-route from their breeding grounds in Poland, Ukraine and Belarus to their winter territories in West Africa. Only around 40 sightings are reported each year, with the species classed as vulnerable and in decline.
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