The Chiffchaff is one of the UK’s smallest birds. It has a brown/olive green back and wings, a whitish buff belly, and yellowish tinge on flanks and throat. The eye stripe of the chiffchaff is relatively muted compared to some other warbler species. They are often confused with willow warblers but there are a few ways to tell them apart. Chiffchaffs are smaller and have dark legs compared to the Willow Warblers’ lighter brown legs. They also wag their tail up and down frequently, whereas willow warblers do not. The song of the Chiffchaff is one of its defining features and is different from that of the willow warbler. Male and female chiffchaffs look the same.
Average Length: 10 - 11 cm
Average Lifespan: 2 Years
Average Wingspan: 15 - 21 cm
Chiffchaffs are insectivorous and eat mostly insects and spiders and can sometimes be seen catching prey on the wing. Over winter they may supplement their diet with seeds and berries but are unlikely visitors to garden feeders.
If you want to attract more chiffchaffs to your garden, make sure your garden is insect friendly by planting wildflowers and avoiding the use of harsh chemicals to remove weeds.
Male chiffchaffs arrive several weeks before females to choose and defend a territory before the females arrive and choose a mate. Female Chiffchaffs then build domed nests out of twigs and leaves close to the ground in densely packed vegetation. In early May the female will lay the first clutch of 5-6 eggs, which she alone will incubate for 2 weeks until they hatch. The female will then feed the chicks until they fledge 15 days after hatching. If the first brood fails they will produce a second one before the breeding season ends in August.
Although Chiffchaffs are doing well in the UK, common threats such as climate change and habitat loss can impact the population. Climate change has led to drought in the Chiffchaffs' wintering ground in Northern Africa. This means that there is not enough food for them to recover from their migration or prepare for the next one. In the UK the loss of woodland habitats could drive a decrease in the population of Chiffchaffs.
Report sightings of chiffchaffs during winter to help us understand the effect climate change is having on our migratory birds.
Create insect-friendly gardens by planting wildflowers and avoiding harsh chemical weed killers.
Petition to protect your local woodland habitat from development.
Chiffchaffs that choose to spend the winter often spend these months at waste treatment plants. These plants provide a warm microclimate and a plentiful supply of invertebrates.
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Phylloscopus collybita. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/common-chiffchaff-phylloscopus-collybita on 09/08/2023.
British Trust for Ornithology Chiffchaff | BTO - British trust for ornithology. Available at: https://www.bto.org/understanding-birds/birdfacts/chiffchaff (Accessed: 09 August 2023).
Gyurácz, J., Kalmár, S., & Molnar, P. (2022). Changes in Autumn Migration Phenology and Morphological Traits of Common Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita (Vieillot, 1817) (Passeriformes: Phylloscopidae) in Pannonian Basin Epidemiological aspects of lymphatic filariasis and its transmission View project. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/359377001
Moreno-Opo, R., Belamendia, G., Vera, P., Onrubia, A., Monteagudo, A., & De La Puente, J. (2015). Differential Migration in the Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita: Sub-Saharan Wintering Grounds Host More Adults and Females as Well as Birds of Larger Size and Better Physical Condition. Https://Doi.Org/10.13157/Arla.62.2.2015.237, 62(2), 237–253. https://doi.org/10.13157/ARLA.62.2.2015.237
Pomroy, A. (2020). Chiffchaffs wintering at a sewage works in south Devon Environmental Management View project UK Biological Ocean Flux Study View project. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339428110
RSPB Chiffchaff Bird facts: Phylloscopus collybita, The RSPB. Available at: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/chiffchaff/ (Accessed: 09 August 2023).