Chaffinch

Fringilla coelebs

SUBFAMILY

Fringillinae

TAXONOMY

Fringilla coelebs Linnaeus, 1758. Seventeen subspecies are recognized.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Common chaffinch; French: Pinson des arbres; German: Buchfink; Spanish: Pinzón Común.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Chaffinches are 5.5-7.1 in (14-18 cm) in body length, have a wingspan of similar length, and weigh 0.7-0.9 oz (20-25 g). They have a white patch on the shoulder, a white wing-bar, and white markings on the tail. Males have a slate-blue back of the head, a pink to deep-red face and breast, and a gray-blue tail. The female is yellow-brown in color, with a lighter belly. However, there is significant geographic variation in the coloration and patterns of streaking of chaffinches, especially in males.

DISTRIBUTION

Chaffinches are widely distributed, occurring in almost all of Europe, across the Middle East, through Ukraine and western Russia to Afghanistan, and in North Africa, the Canary Islands, and the Azores.

HABITAT

Chaffinches occur in a wide variety of woodlands and open forests, urban and suburban parks and gardens, and fields with hedgerows. They tend to occur in more open habitats during the winter.

BEHAVIOR

Chaffinches are migratory in winter, but the sexes do this differently. Their scientific name, coelebs, is derived from the Latin

word for "without marriage," and acknowledges the preponderance of male chaffinches that winter in northern parts of their range, while females migrate further to the south. Studies of banded birds have shown that more males winter in Scandinavia, Britain, and parts of central Europe, while more females winter in Ireland. The territorial song is a bright series of rattling notes.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Chaffinches forage on the ground and in trees for seeds and fruit, including pine seeds. Unlike other kinds of true finches, the young of chaffinches are mostly fed insect larvae, butterflies, moths, and other invertebrates, which are regurgitated by the parents. When the ground is snow-covered, chaffinches will attend bird feeders, or they may gather in farm yards to eat seed put out for domestic fowl and at barns where seed is stored.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Chaffinches build a well-camouflaged, cup-shaped nest of grasses and lichens. The nest is neatly constructed and sturdy, and is located in a tree or shrub close to the trunk or a large branch. The eggs are incubated for 11-13 days. Only a single brood is raised each year.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened. The chaffinch is a widespread and abundant species. It probably has benefited from relatively open habitats created when older forests were converted into urbanized and agricultural land-uses, as long as some trees, shrubs, and hedgerows persisted.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Chaffinches are common, much-appreciated birds that enrich residential and agricultural areas with their beauty and song. They have been kept in cages as prized songbirds. ♦

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