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Species of the week- The Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

Posted by on May 17, 2013

By Milo Bostock

Lauren is a recent graduate in microbiology interning at the Society of Biology until June 2013. She is interested in a career in science communication and writes for her own blog, Science Says as well as for the Student Hubs blog.

The long-awaited spring is finally here. And what better to bring with it than the distinctive call of the chiffchaff? This sweet sounding songbird is typically one of the earliest arrivals back on British soil after jetting off to the Mediterranean and western Africa to see out the long, cold winter.

Contrasting to its song, which sounds just like its name (chiff chaff), it is rather indistinctive in appearance. This little leaf warbler is roughly 10-12cm long with olive-brown feathers and petite brown legs. It is often found towards the higher branches of trees in woodland areas, preferring to sing at least five meters off the ground.

Chiffchaffs are insectivorous, choosing to forage on gnats, midges, flies, caterpillars and moths, which they find by rummaging among bushes and trees as well as catching in mid-air, an impressive feat. They are extremely lively birds and often flick their tails up and down whilst feeding.

In recent years, there have been an increasing number of chiffchaffs staying in Britain over the winter, although it is thought that these originally came from Scandinavia and mainland Europe. Unlike much of Britain’s wildlife, chiffchaff populations are fortunately quite stable, and have even thought to be growing due to increasingly warmer winters.

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