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At a glance

The common chiffchaff is a medium-sized warbler. It has a wide range with up to 120 million birds in Europe alone. It gets its name from its distinctive, repetitive “chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff” song, which is one of the first signs that spring has arrived. Its song and its dark legs distinguish it from the willow warbler with which it can often be confused.

Key facts

Scientific name: Phylloscopus collybita
Status: Breeding summer visitor

Breeding pairs: 1,200,000 territories

Wintering birds: 500 – 1,000

Conservation status: Green

Family: Leaf warblers

Length: 11 – 12 cm
Wingspan: 15 – 21 cm
Weight: 6 – 10 g

What do chiffchaffs look like?

Chiffchaffs are medium sized birds with olive-green and brown upperparts. Their flight feathers and tails are brown with olive-green fringes.

Chiffchaffs’ underparts are white or very pale yellow and their flanks and breasts are yellow. The head is olive-brown and they have a white eye-ring and a dark brown eye stripe. Their eyes are dark brown and their legs and feet are black.

Both sexes look similar although the female is slightly smaller than the male. Juvenile chiffchaffs have grey-brown upperparts and pale yellow underparts.

Chiffchaffs can be identified by their distinctive “chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff” call which distinguishes them from the very similar looking willow warbler.

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How do chiffchaffs breed?

Chiffchaffs breed from April to early August and produces 1 or 2 broods a year. The nest is situated on the ground concealed in thick vegetation. It is built mainly by the female. It is ball-shaped structure made from dry grasses, leaves, moss, and feathers.

Chiffchaffs lay 5-6 smooth, glossy white eggs with purple markings which are incubated by the female alone for 13-15 days. They chicks are fed mainly by the female and will fledge the nest 2 weeks after hatching. They become fully independent after another 10-20 days and are sexually mature at 1 year.

What do chiffchaffs eat?

Chiffchaffs mainly eat insects, caterpillars, aphids and moths. They will also feed from the sap of trees and in autumn and winter will supplement their diet with seeds and berries.


Where can I see chiffchaffs?

Chiffchaffs can be seen all over the UK except the far north of Scotland. Most of them arrive in March and have departed by September.

You will find them in lowland woodlands, parks and gardens.

What do chiffchaffs sound like?

David Bissett/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Chiffchaffs will only sing in trees that are more than 5 m high.

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