The chaffinch is a small finch, about the size of a house sparrow, with a long body, and distinctive markings. It is the most common finch in western Europe, and the third most common breeding bird in the UK after the wren and the robin. Originally a woodland bird it now thrives almost everywhere and is often tame around picnic sites, car parks, and gardens. It has a complex vocabulary with slight variations in its song depending on where in the country it lives, so is often said to have a regional accent.
Breeding birds: 6,200,000 territories
In breeding plumage, adult male chaffinches have reddish brown upperparts with a green rump. The upperwings are black with two white wing bars, and pale buff edges to the flight feathers, and the tail is black with white outer rectrices. The underparts are pinkish-brown with a white vent and undertail coverts.
On the head, the forehead is black, the crown, nape, and sides of the neck are grey, and the cheeks and ear coverts are pinkish-brown. The pointed bill is blue-grey, the eyes are dark brown, and the legs and feet are pinkish-brown.
In winter plumage, the plumage is duller, and the bill is pinkish-grey.
Female chaffinches have a similar pattern on their plumage to males but are a duller olive-brown overall. The underparts are paler and the wing bars are creamy and narrower. The head is brown with a pale patch on the nape. The bill is pale pink with a black tip, and they have a white feathered eye-ring.
Juvenile chaffinches resemble females.
Chaffinches breed from late April to mid-July and produce one brood a season. They are fiercely territorial and mainly monogamous, and pair bonds will last for several years. They nest in woodland, particularly in coniferous plantations but will also use gardens and parks with trees and bushes.
The female builds the nest in the fork of a tree or concealed bush using moss, grass, lichens, roots, and moss to make a cup shape bound together with spiders’ webs. It is lined with finer materials such as hair and feathers.
Chaffinches lay 4-5 pale pink or blue-grey eggs with reddish-brown or purple blotches and scrawls, which are incubated by the female for 10-16 days. Chicks are fed by both parents, and leave the nest at 13-14 days but still depend on their parents for a further week before they can fly and feed themselves. They reach sexual maturity at 1 year.
Chaffinches eat mainly seeds as well as some fruit. In winter they form large flocks to feed in groups in farmland and gardens. During breeding season they will supplement their diet with caterpillars.
Chaffinches can be seen all year round across the UK in woodlands, hedgerows, fields, parks and gardens.
The chaffinch is sometimes known as the bachelor bird and the second part of its scientific name means bachelor. This is because migration patterns between the sexes differ and in Sweden, the home country of Linnaeus, who named them, many females leave over winter while the males remain.
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