CHAFFINCH (Fringilla coelebs)


Pinson des arbres


This is the commonest bird in Switzerland, found everywhere in parks gardens and woodlands, up to and above the treeline. Principally they pick seeds form the ground but can also feed on insects. Its cascading song is one of the hallmarks of the spring and summer, often dominating the soundscape in many places especially in both broad-leafed and pine woodlands.

The most frequently heard song - which seems to be used for both territorial defence and mate attraction, it is a fairly short phrase both accelerating and descending, it is in 3 parts - starting with a clear "chip-chip-chip" call, then getting faster and descending to a lower level, then a little trill finishing off with a flourish at the end.

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The three stages of the song can be seen quite clearly as you follow the sonogram, look for the rapid trill just before the end, and then the final flourish which looks like a rapid upwards and then slower downwards swing of the last note:

The song of the Chaffinch, like most species is learned, and so dialects develop in different regions, so what you may hear in your locality may differ slightly from what I present here. I will try and get some examples from different locations and post them in future.

But Chaffinches also make a series of other, mostly single note calls of a fairly wide variety - up to 8 have been documented although there seem to be fewer used in winter than in the breeding season. These are used under a variety of circumstances - one very often is heard once is a "buzz" noise which is said to signal aggression:

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In the sonogram this is, as you might expect, a pretty dull blob of sound made every 1 - 1.5 secs at about 4 Khz:

(That was a Great Tit that called just before the third buzz on the sonogram).
These calls may help keep a pair together - in dense vegetation or in flight, or perhaps may also be used in territorial disputes - its all very complicated. There are two other commonly heard calls, one is an upward inflected whistle - "hweet" and the other a sharp, metallic "chink" sometimes uttered as a pair - "chink-chink", the latter I have seen referred to as an alarm call. They are often referred to as "rain" calls, presumably a comment on their weather forecasting abilities (it's not true !), but in reviewing the literature different authors give this name to different calls.
To give you an idea how complex it can get -- look at this next sonogram - it has all three of these in it - the buzz, the whistle and the chink - I think there were three separate birds interacting, but exactly what they were doing I have no clue !

It may help you to watch the video and check the calls as follows (use the pause button at the left hand end on the the timer bar to make it easier):

First call is the upwards inflected whistle at about 1 sec; it occurs again at 2.8 / 4.2 / 9 and 11 secs (this has been regarded as an alarm call)

Second call is the buzz at 1.6 secs; repeated at 5 / 10 / and 12.2 secs (maybe aggression)

Third call is the metallic "chink" at 2 secs; repeated at 3.2/ 5.4 and 5.6 / 8 and 8.2 secs. These last two pairs are the double "chink-chink" calls I spoke of earlier. (also an alarm call)



So you probably now realise that in the right type of woodland an awful lot of the noise you may hear around you can be attributed to Chaffinches !





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