Chaffinch

Fringilla coelebs Linnaeus, 1758

Order: Passeriformes

Family: Fringillidae

New Zealand status: Introduced

Conservation status: Introduced and Naturalised

Other names: pahirini, common chaffinch

Geographical variation: New Zealand birds are assigned to the subspecies gengleri

Chaffinch. Adult male. Kaikoura, August 2011. Image © Neil Fitzgerald by Neil Fitzgerald Neil Fitzgerald: www.neilfitzgeraldphoto.co.nz

Chaffinch. Adult male. Kaikoura, August 2011. Image © Neil Fitzgerald by Neil Fitzgerald Neil Fitzgerald: www.neilfitzgeraldphoto.co.nz

Chaffinches are the commonest and most widespread of New Zealand’s introduced finches, and are found in a wide range of habitats from sea-level to 1400 m. They are self-introduced to many off-shore islands. Chaffinches frequently visit suburban gardens, especially in winter, and are often seen feeding with house sparrows and silvereyes around bird-tables, on lawns and in parks. The sexes may segregate into separate flocks in winter, especially males; hence the specific name of coelebs (bachelor).

Identification

Male chaffinches are similar in size to a house sparrow, with the females being a little smaller. They are sexually dimorphic; males are brightly coloured in spring and summer with brick-red breasts and chestnut mantles. The crown and nape are greyish- blue and the wings are black with a prominent white wing-bar and shoulder patch. During winter, the colours are duller due to the presence of buff tips to the feathers which wear off by early spring. Females are dull brownish-grey, but with similar wing markings as the males. Both sexes have white in the outer tail-feathers which is conspicuous in flight.

Voice: the call is a familiar ‘chink chink’, uttered by both sexes throughout the year. The male has a short rattling song, frequently repeated, during the breeding season.

Similar species: males are not readily confused with any other species, but the female can be mistaken for a female house sparrow. However, the female chaffinch is slimmer, lacks dark streaks on the upper surface and has prominent white wing markings.

Distribution and habitat

Chaffinches are widespread throughout the New Zealand mainland and on the Chatham Islands, and are resident on Stewart Island and also the Snares, Auckland and Campbell Islands. Recorded as a vagrant on Norfolk, Lord Howe, Kermadec and Antipodes Islands.

The natural range of the chaffinch is Europe, western and central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. It also inhabits islands in the northAtlantic. It was also successfully introduced to South Africa.

Chaffinches occupy a wide range of habitats from sea-level to 1400 m, wherever there are trees or scrub. They inhabit pine and other exotic forests, indigenous forests and sub-alpine scrub, and are common in gardens, parks, orchards and farmland with shelterbelts and hedgerows.

Population

The chaffinch was slow to become established in New Zealand, but is now abundant throughout the country.

Ecological and economic impacts

Chaffinches are not generally considered to be an important agricultural pest, although they have been known to cause minor damage to fruit buds and newly-sown crops. Impacts on native species have not been reported.

Breeding

Chaffinches are territorial and monogamous during the breeding season, which lasts from September to February. Males establish a territory and commence singing in late July or early August. Females visit the territory with increasing frequency and one eventually forms a pair bond with the resident male. However, the female may leave the territory during nest-building and mate with other males in territories nearby. The male’s courtship display consists of a headlong chase during which it appears that he is attacking his mate. He also presents himself to the female in a lop-sided posture with his head feathers raised. The female constructs a neat cup-shaped nest of fine grass, wool and moss camouflaged with lichen on the outside, and lined with feathers and hair. This is located in a tree or shrub 1-18 m above the ground. She incubates alone for 11-15 days, and when the chicks hatch they are fed invertebrates by both parents. The chicks continue to be fed for about 3 weeks after fledging. Chaffinches are normally single-brooded, but occasionally raise a second clutch.

Behaviour and ecology

Chaffinches form flocks of varying size outside the breeding season, often with other species of finches and buntings, especially at a good food source e.g. weeds growing amongst crops. They may also form mixed flocks with native species such as fantails and silvereyes in indigenous forests in autumn. Chaffinches usually feed on seeds on the ground, but also in trees such as pines and native beeches. Insects are located by searching the branches and foliage of trees and shrubs, or are taken from the ground. Chaffinches also catch insects by hawking, especially around rivers and streams.

Some seasonal movement has been reported. Birds from higher altitudes move to lower elevations in autumn, and birds from indigenous forests winter on farmland. Birds from the South Island appear in the southern North Island in varying numbers yearly from April to July. This has not been confirmed by banding recoveries, but these birds can be identified by their different dialect. The normal contact call of chaffinches from the North Island (and also British birds) could be rendered as “chink chink’, whereas that of the South Island bird sounds more like ‘chek chek’.

Food

Chaffinches feed predominantly on seeds in winter. A wide range of seeds are taken, including tree seeds such as those of beeches, Pinus radiata, and rimu. Flax seeds are taken directly from heads, or collected on the ground. Other seeds taken from on or near the ground include cereals, fat hen, chickweed, Amaranthus, dandelion and thistle. Chicks are fed almost entirely on invertebrates both before and after fledging, and a large proportion of the adult diet also consists of invertebrates during the breeding season. Invertebrates taken include bugs, flies, beetles, moths, caterpillars, aphids, cicadas and spiders.

Weblinks

http://www.nzbirds.com/birds/chaffinch.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaffinch

References

Dean, S. 1990. Composition and seasonality of mixed species flocks of insectivorous birds.

Notornis 37: 27-36.

Heather, B.D.; Robertson, H.A. 1996. The field guide to the birds of New Zealand. Viking, Auckland.

Higgins,P.J.; Peter, J.M.; Cowling, S.J. (eds.) 2006. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 7, boatbill to starlings. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Recommended citation

Angus, D.J. 2013. Chaffinch.  In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online.

www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Chaffinch

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
woven cup
Nest description
Neat cup-shaped nest of fine grass, wool and moss camouflaged with lichen on the outside, and lined with hair and feathers.
Nest height (mean)
8.5 m
Nest height (min)
1 m
Nest height (max)
18 m
Maximum number of successful broods
2
Clutch size (mean)
3.64
Clutch size (min)
3
Clutch size (max)
6
Mean egg dimensions (length)
20.1 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
14.2 mm
Egg colour
Varied from pale blue to greyish or greenish-blue with reddish and dark brown spots and blotches.
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Interval between eggs in a clutch
1 day days
Incubation behaviour
female only
Incubation length (mean)
13 days
Incubation length (min)
11 days
Incubation length (max)
15 days
Nestling type
altricial
Nestling period (mean)
14 days
Nestling period (min)
10 days
Nestling period (max)
16 days
Age at fledging (mean)
14 days
Age at fledging (min)
10 days
Age at fledging (max)
16 days
Age at independence (mean)
Approximately 35 days
Age at first breeding (typical)
1 year
Age at first breeding (min)
1 years
Maximum longevity
9 years in New Zealand and 13 in Europe
Maximum dispersal
1480 km (Lord Howe Island)