Chiffchaff Profile

A small and dainty bird named for its song, the Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) is a species of warbler. Chiffchaffs are greenish brown in colour and have dark legs. They are just 11cm in length and so are one of the UK’s smallest birds.

Chiffchaffs flit around through trees and bushes with a distinctive tail-flicking movement. They have darker legs than the similar willow warblers and a pale stripe above their eyes. Chiffchaffs flick their tails continuously whereas willow warblers only do this occasionally.

What is the chiffchaff’s population and distribution?

Most of the chiffchaffs seen in the UK are summer migrants which spend autumn and winter in Africa or the Mediterranean region. But an increasing number of these birds are staying here year-round. This behaviour is thought to be the result of climate change. Up to 1,000 birds are now spending the whole year in the UK. This is double the number recorded in 1970. During the summer, chiffchaffs can be found throughout the country except in the Scottish Highlands. They favour woodlands, parks and gardens in lowland areas. There are approximately 1.2 million breeding pairs in the UK and the chiffchaff is not of conservation concern.

What do chiffchaffs eat?

These birds pluck insects from trees and may grab them in flight as they attempt to flee. The chiffchaff’s diet is principally Insects and spiders, but seeds and berries may also be taken in the winter months if insects are scarce.

Where do chiffchaffs nest?

Chiffchaffs nest close to the ground using dense vegetation for cover. Their domed nests are constructed by the females out of stems and leaves, and then lined with feathers. Chiffchaffs will usually lay 5 or 6 eggs in May or June. These are incubated for roughly 14 days and the chicks fledge after 14 days. The female alone incubates the eggs and feeds the young.

Did you know?

The generic name of the chiffchaff, Phylloscopus, means leaf explorer. The species name of the chiffchaff, collybita, is derived from the Greek word for money changer and refers to the chiffchaffs song which sounds like the jingling of coins.

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