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The house sparrow-sized chaffinch is one of the UK's more colourful garden birds, especially the male during the breeding season when his plumage becomes much brighter. As with many bird species the male is the brighter and more colourful of the two sexes. In summer males look very smart with a rich reddish-pink breast, throat and side of head, rich chestnut-brown upper back ('nape') and bluish-grey head ('crown') and neck.

Male chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs).

Image via Wikipedia

The wings are black and white. He has a colour-coordinated blue-grey strong conical seed-eating bill. In winter the male's plumage is far less bright. Adult female chaffinches are far duller all year in comparison to males. Their underparts are buffish or grey-brown, back grey-green tinged brown, and the bill light brown. She is similar in appearance to the juvenile chaffinch and can easily be confused with female house sparrows. However both male and female chaffinches are slimmer with a longer tail than house sparrows and have prominent double white wing bars which are clear at rest and in flight, which should assist in identification.

Call & Song: A loud and vocal species, the chaffinch's song varies widely by region... an accelerating rattle ending in a flourish which can be heard in woodland and parks more often than most birds. There are many calls such as a cheerful 'pink-pink' and a quiet 'chup' flight call.

Latin name: Fringilla coelebs
Size: 14 – 16 cm


The chaffinch is the commonest finch in Europe and can also be found in north-west Africa, the Middle East and Asia as far east as western Siberia. Here in Britain it is our second commonest bird after the wren, with almost 6 million breeding pairs. Chaffinches can be found in open woodlands, hedgerows, fields, parks and gardens all year, in fact anywhere with trees or bushes including town and city centres. In spring and summer chaffinches are relatively solitary and territorial whereas in winter they travel and forage in large flocks, favouring farmland stubble fields. In Britain these winter flocks are increased by huge numbers of finches migrating from north and north-east Europe. British chaffinches are generally not migratory. They usually forage on the ground, hopping along whilst searching for seeds and small insects. Their flight is strong and undulating. Nests are built by the female, often in the fork of a tree, a neat compact cup  of moss, lichen and spiders' webs, which is often camouflaged with bark and lichen and can be almost impossible to spot.

Female chaffinch

Image via Wikipedia

In The Garden

Many of our gardens have chaffinches, especially if you have a larger garden or live near woodland or mature trees. They will often nest in garden hedges, mature creepers or shrubs, so keep your hedges thick and try not to disturb them from early spring to autumn. If you are lucky enough to have a pair nesting in your garden you are likely to know about it as the chicks can get quite noisy as they grow up and become more and more demanding for food from the busy parents. Chaffinches enjoy many types of seed such as general wild bird or mixed seed, sunflower seeds, and fat balls with seeds. They tend not to feed on bird feeders as often as some other birds, preferring to feed on the ground beneath the feeders. If however they do become confident with your garden and feeding station you can hope to enjoy watching them as they carefully pick through the food for their favourite seeds.

Did You Know...?

The Latin name for the chaffinch 'coelebs' comes from a word meaning 'bachelor', as when named by Linnaeus in 1758 he only saw male chaffinches in his homeland of Sweden, because females migrate further than males spending winter further south.

The brighter summer plumage of male chaffinches is not due to feather moult, but actually a result of the feather tips and less bright plumage wearing away to reveal the more intense colours just in time to impress females in the breeding season!