Chiffchaff

Phylloscopus collybita

10-11cm

Appearance

The Chiffchaff resembles the Willow Warbler, but the legs are blacker, the wings stumpier, the body more compact and the head has a more circular shape. Adults and juvenile birds are similar; they're greyish-brown above, pale greyish underneath but with a yellow buffish tinge to the breast and throat, flight feathers are edged with yellow, the eye has a dark line through it and a pale strip above it, and the bill is narrow and pointed. Markings are dulled during the summer. Birds in their first winter appear more vivid than adults.

Habitat

Breeding occurs in woodland, bushy areas with thick scrub and strong tree cover, though Chiffchaffs tend to avoid coniferous woods. Can be found in gardens and parkland during autumn and winter.

Character

Chiffchaffs are rarely still, flitting their tail and darting between areas of cover, however they regularly sing from visible perches. When flying, they can appear jolty, and it has a hover-like manoeuvre which it uses to get insects from the underside of leaves. Usually alone when not in breeding season, but roosts may form during winter.

Food

Diet includes midges, flies, aphids and moth caterpillars. May occasionally eat plant material.

Breeding

Females lay 5 or 6 eggs at the end of April or beginning of May, and she incubates these for 13-15 days. Hatchlings are fed primarily by their mother, and depart the nest at about 12-15 days old; after a further 10-19 days, the young gain independence. Birds in the south of Britain regularly raise a second brood.

Population

The Chiffchaff is predominately a summer visitor, with numbers exceeding 1.2 million pairs in the UK and about 100 000 individual birds in Ireland. A much smaller number of birds spend the winter in the region, approximately 500-1000 individual birds, mostly in the southern parts of England. Majority of birds reach the region towards the end of March or beginning of April and depart in September; many of these travel south-east into the Mediterranean area.

Observation Tips

Adult males can be heard widely during spring, and the birds are quite prevalent generally, so finding them shouldn't be too much of a challenge. If faced with a bird who is quiet, check the leg colour to help with identification; the Chiffchaff has very dark legs.

Voice

The call is an ascending 'hueet', and the song, known for its onomatopoeia, consists of repeated phrases such as 'chiff-chaff' or 'tsip-tsap'.
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