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Key Information

Scientific Name: Phylloscopus collybita

Bird Family: Warblers

UK breeding birds: 1,200,000 territories

UK Conservation Status: Green

What does a chiffchaff look like?

The chiffchaff is a small brown bird, measuring around 10 to 11.5cm in length and a wingspan of approximately 15 to 20cm. It has an olive-green upperpart, pale underside, and brown wings and tail with olive-green fringes. One of its most distinctive features is the cream-coloured eye stripe that adorns its face, providing a charming contrast to its earth-toned feathers. Its legs are slender and dark in colour. The chiffchaff is often confused with the willow warbler, but it can be differentiated by its slightly darker plumage and more prominent eye stripe.

What do chiffchaffs eat?

Chiffchaffs are primarily insectivores, feeding on a wide range of leaf insects such as flies, spiders, caterpillars, and beetles. They forage actively in trees, shrubs, and on the ground, using their fine bill to pick insects from leaves and branches. Their diet may expand to seeds and berries in the winter when the insect population decreases.

Where do chiffchaffs nest?

Chiffchaffs are migratory birds, arriving in the UK in March to participate in the breeding season. Chiffchaffs do not use nest boxes. Instead, they build cup-shaped nests using grass, leaves, moss, and spider silk, typically situated close to the ground within thick vegetation. 

Recently, research has shown that chiffchaff's breeding range has expanded towards the northern regions of Scotland. The BTO indicates that this expansion may be attributed to the favourable effects of climatic warming in that specific area of the UK.

How many eggs do chiffchaffs lay?

The female chiffchaff lays a clutch of 4-7 eggs, which she incubates for about 13-14 days. Once the chicks hatch, both parents take on the responsibility of feeding and protecting them until they fledge, roughly 14-16 days later. The parents continue to provide and protect the fledglings until they are self-sufficient.

What does a chiffchaff sound like?

Chiffchaffs are well known for their distinctive song, which gives the bird its name. With a delightful "chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff" refrain, this bird's musical notes resonate through the trees, serving as both a territorial declaration and a mating call. The chiffchaff song can be heard from early spring until late summer, creating a delightful soundtrack to accompany walks in the countryside.

When do chiffchaffs migrate?

The chiffchaff is not a year-round resident in the UK. In fact, it's a migratory species, making its way to the British Isles from southern Europe and North Africa as winter turns to spring. This journey of thousands of kilometres is a testament to the bird's remarkable navigational abilities. After the nesting season has completely finished, chiffchaffs typically leave the UK in autumn as the weather begins to cool, usually around September/October. They journey back to their wintering grounds in southern Europe and North Africa. This migration allows them to escape the colder temperatures and reduced food availability that come with the changing seasons in the UK. In the spring, they make the return journey, arriving back in the UK to breed once again.

Are chiffchaffs common in the UK?

Chiffchaffs are considered to be common birds in the UK. They are widespread and can be found in various habitats, including woodlands, parks, gardens, heathlands, and wetlands. Chiffchaffs are often one of the first migratory bird species to return to the UK in the spring, and their distinctive "chiff-chaff" song is a familiar sound in the countryside during this season. Their adaptability to different environments and their ability to forage for a wide variety of insects contribute to their commonality in the UK.