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 !

 

 

 

 

LINNET (Carduelis cannabina)

Linotte mélodieuse

The Linnet in a very active member of the Finch family. In Switzerland it can be found from low altitudes up to about 2200m, but is most common in the semi-open country that can be found from about 1400m upwards. Elsewhere in Europe the numbers are declining, probably due to overuse of herbicides and mechanical clearance of the scrubby type of vegetation it prefers, but in Switzerland it seems stable probably because that high habitat is most stable. It is a small, generally brown streaked bird with a longish tail, the male has a small red forehead and in the breeding season he develops a wonderful reddish-pink colour on the sides of his breast. They are seldom seen alone, in the breeding season mostly in pairs, but they soon form loose flock which in winter can become very large flocks often mixed with other finches.


For many years it was prized as a cage bird, essentially for its song, which is sweet but not at all powerful, and its popularity may also have been because it was very common and easily caught using decoy birds. Nonetheless there are many references to the song of the Linnet in folk music and the name in French is of course a direct reference to this.


In reality the song I find rather weak, somewhat wheezy, and delivered in short snatches. Patterns are hard to detect (as in most Carduline finches) and it is more the timbre and quality that identify it. Individual phrases are numerous and Cramp and Perrins give many examples of the individual phrases from data gathered from captive birds. I will not try and repeat all that here, but I have noticed that individual birds do seem to have certain favorite phrases that they pick and repeat in their song. For example this bird has a characteristic way of introducing some of the phrases which appears in several places - it appears in phrase1 and is embellished in phrases 2 and 3 in this sonogram, look at it and then listen to the whole sequence in the player that follows:

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Here is another example, this bird has a characteristic strong note at about 4Khz that you can see in the sonogram at 1.5s, 2.2s, 8.4s and 9.1 s. Again learn it from the sonogram then pick it out in the longer recording that follows:

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Now I am not suggesting that you will ever find these actual phrases in the wild (maybe rarely if you are lucky) but when listening to a Linnet look out for certain phrases that may be repeated in the song. Also note that each phrase tends to be delivered in a short burst and that the squeaky, wheezy characteristic is quite clear.

That said listen to this final song which starts out with quite an exceptionally long phrase, full of trills and twirls, it later settles back into the more regular pattern of short phrases:

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A long complex sequence - very hard to pick out any pattern though, I think you will agree. There is one call phrase that is very distinctive however. In flight and when perched they will utter a rapid "chup-chup" sound as a contact call, also, and I have only heard it when they are perched, they have a very cheerful sounding "chew-wheee" call, this one is very distinctive and definitely worth learning. Here is a bird that is perched using both of these calls mixed together:

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Lots of cows bells in the background I am afraid - but have a look at the sonogram and it will help you learn these two calls both of which are distinctive and helpful to know when in the field:





GOLDFINCH  (Carduelis carduelis)

Chardonneret élégant

Goldfinch3.jpgThis is arguably the most beautiful member of the finch family - when seen in strong sunlight it can positively shimmer with its distinctive red face and streak of golden yellow in the wing - which becomes a most distinctive flash when in flight and gives rise to its English vernacular name. The Goldfinch has a very slender beak  and it favours the small seeds of compound flowers like teasel and thistle (see Arlette's photos below) - and it is from the latter that it seems to get its French vernacular name since "chardon" is a thistle.

In Switzerland it is commonest in the lowlands especially around river banks, fallow fields and other "rough" ground where its favorite foods grow well. It is very sociable and usually found in loose flocks which can get quite large especially in winter. To me it always seems to be a bit of a wanderer, a flock will land and then a few minutes later take off to who knows where. To maintain contact the birds call constantly to each other - a sort of  a rapid "towhit-a-whit" and often the first evidence of them being around are these twitterings as they keep together.

Here is a rather large flock in a larch about 40 m from where I was standing:

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At one time in Europe these were popular cage birds because of their singing abilities which are somewhat reminiscent of a canary. The song is a complex series of notes and trills which at first is confusing but which eventually takes on some recognisable patterns. Here is a nice sequence of song in a high alpine meadow in August with an abundance of hover-flies buzzing around as well as the cow bells echoing off a nearby cliff:

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If you listen carefully this bird completes each phrase with a distinctive downward buzzing trill. This can be seen clearly if we look at just one phrase (lasting only 2.2 seconds !) as a sonogram:

From this two second short phrase you can begin to appreciate the full complexity of the full song when the phrases are repeated many times over. To better understand what is going on, here is the same sonogram but with the speed slowed to about one-third of normal to give your eyes and ears a chance to keep up ! It will sound strange as slowing it down also lowers the pitch, but you can now see the final "buzz" quite clearly:

I have only heard Goldfinch make one other noise and this was when two males were competing over something, they kept flying up in the air pecking at each other making angry little churring noises:

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GREENFINCH (Carduelis chloris)

Verdier d' Europe

 

 

The song of the Greenfinch is a series of complex trills and whistles, the basic note of which is a rapidly repeated "kip" sound, perhaps a bit reminiscent of a canary:

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This song may sound confusing but we can break it down into a few elements that are very distinctive and immediately identify this bird. One characteristic sound is a rather horrible nasal "tscheeeer", its hard to call it "song" as it is such an unmusical note. It can be made on its own when it sounds more like a call, but it is also included in song sequences.Cardueline finches seem to get calls and songs confused !

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This noise has a slight inflection so it is on a rising scale:

 
 Another characteristic sound is a sort of deep swirl that has a hockey-stick shape to it:
 
 
 You can hear it in this sequence:
 

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 Finally another distinctive phrase frequently used is a strong "chew-chew-chew":
 
 
 Listen for it here:
 

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So yes, a pretty complex and confusing set of phrases and songs, but a wonderful sound when it is all strung together. Here is a 2 minute sequence of a very excited male singing very rapidly and strong and using just about all of the phrases described above:

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This type of musical stream is usually delivered from an exposed perch so everyone is aware of its presence - but just in case someone loses attention then Greenfinches can also be seen singing in flight - during a song flight the wing beat is often slowed down and it flies in a very buoyant bouncy kind of manner.

BAD NEWS FOR ENGLISH GREENFINCHES

A recent Press Release from the British Trust for Ornithology points to a recent paper that concludes that  Greenfinch populations in England declined by 35% from 2006-2007, and that Chaffinch populations fell by 21% over the same period. The cause was an infectious disease caused by a protozoan parasite Trichomonas gallinae. This is a parasite well known in pigeons but this seems to be the first record of a mass outbreak in finches. As many finches are migratory it will be interesting to see if this occurs in finches in continental Europe in the coming years.

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