Chiffchaffs are a “summer visitor”, coming only to Britain in the Spring to breed and departing in the early Autumn – although a few tough it out and stay the winter here. They are a small bird – about the size of a Blue Tit – and, in appearance, they are very similar to another summer visitor, the Willow Warbler. To make identification matters worse, they also prefer to sing from the tops of tall trees, so they are not easy to see!
However, there is one feature that gives them away – their song. They sing their name! Their distinctive two-syllable call “chiff” (first higher note) “chaff” (second lower note) can be heard from some distance away, so it’s quite easy to recognise this species. You can hear a recording of their song here: http://tinyurl.com/ChiffchaffSong Sometimes, however, the bird might get a little confused and repeat the same note twice!
Spring is a little late this year! Last year, we heard and saw our first Chiffchaff at St Nicks on 21st March. This year, at the time of writing this Spotlight (5th April 2013), we have yet to record this species on the reserve. However, they have been reported in the York area in recent days, so listen out for this lovely and distinctive songster!
ID Tip: If you do happen to see a non-singing bird that looks like the photo above, try to see what colour its legs are. Typically, a Willow Warbler has pale-coloured legs, whilst a Chiffchaff’s legs are dark. But this is not always a reliable identification guide! Nothing is ever that simple!
North Yorkshire: Migrant (summer) breeder and passage migrant with some birds overwintering
St Nicks: Migrant (summer) breeder, recorded in 2012 between 21st March and 10th October