Chaffinch – 2012 Winter

Fringilla coelebs – JI-BINC Breeding resident and passage migrant.

The chaffinch is widespread across Pembrokeshire in winter, the only gaps being on the Preseli tops and Castlemartin Range – both open exposed areas.

Chaffinch numbers have been boosted during the winter months when the sedentary breeding population has been joined by immigrant continental birds. Bertram Lloyd (1939) considered the small groups he found around farm rickyards and dungyards to be local birds but the larger flocks in the more open countryside were continental birds.

Since then the farmyard groups have largely disappeared in the absence of spilled grain and dung heaps, which have largely given way to slurry pits. Groups in the wider countryside have varied in size and distribution dependent on the nature of changing agricultural practices. Those areas proving attractive to Chaffinches have been barley stubbles, seeded turnips, unharvested linseed and crops like sunflowers planted for the benefit of Pheasants. Beech mast has also been exploited but the quantity available is cyclical and the trees are local and sparsely distributed in the county.

The size of most winter flocks has been between 50 to 300 birds, with some larger gatherings on record. 500 were at Longhouse on the 6th February 2004 and Castle Martin on the 15th January 2007, 600 at St Florence on 31st December 2005, 750 at Angle on the 23rd December 2008, 900 at Marloes on the 25th January 1993, 2,000 at St Florence on 29th January 2006 and 3,000 at Hubberston on the 5th January 2006. 

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

Data collected by volunteers for the BTO Atlas 2007-11 – plus an extra winter of fieldwork

References: LLOYD. B. 1929-1939 Diaries, National Museum of Wales.

More about the Chaffinch in Pembrokeshire

Chaffinch – 2008 migration

Fringilla coelebs – JI-BINC Breeding resident and passage migrant.

Many Chaffinches from northern Europe, particularly Scandinavia, migrate in the autumn down the Continental west coast, crossing either over the southern North Sea or the English Channel to winter in Britain. Some continue through Britain to Ireland.

Lockley et al (1949) described Chaffinch migration of tens of thousands coming down over Cardigan Bay to strike the northern and western coasts of the county during October.

Betts (1992) noted large movements through Skokholm in October and November, including 3,200 passing on the 22nd October 1966 and 2,000 grounded in fog on the 26th October 1988.

A total of 11,600 were logged passing Strumble Head during 12 days of observation between the 16th October and the 22nd November 1981. Peak passage involved 2,160 on the 24th October and 2,590 on the 1st November.

The Pembrokeshire Bird Report for 1986 recorded many thousands passing Strumble Head between the 4 October and the 12 December. It added it would have taken an army of observers to count the visible birds but many more were heard that were too high to see.

The volume of passage during October to November diminished thereafter. Peak autumn totals at Strumble were 2,405 in 1999 and 2,711 in 2007. Peaks at Skomer were 3,500 in 1993 and 4,850 in 2008.

At least 1,000 passed over the St David’s peninsula on the 24th October 2002. 1,000 coasted at Pen Anglas on the 15th November 2007. 1,350 passed Pencarnan in half an hour on the morning of the 23rd October 2009.

Flocks have sometimes temporarily accumulated in coastal regions during autumn passage time e.g. 400 at Marloes on the 24th November 1991 which soon moved on.

Fragmentary as the available records are, they evidently indicate that considerably fewer migratory Chaffinches have been reaching Pembrokeshire since the massed movements of the1940s to 1980s period.

Lockley (1957) described a strong return passage during March and April but this has not been detected since, other than a few Chaffinches appearing on the offshore islands at this season.

© 2010 Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire Bird Recorder 1981-2007

BETTS. M. 1992. Birds of Skokholm, BioLine, Cardiff.
LOCKLEY. R. M, INGRAM. C. S. and SALMON. H. M.1949. The birds of Pembrokeshire, West Wales Field Society.
LOCKLEY. R. M. (1957). Pembrokeshire, Robert Hale, London.
REES. G. H. (Ed). Pembrokeshire Bird Reports, 1981 – 1986, West Wales Naturalists Trust.

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Chaffinch – 2003-07 breeding

Fringilla coelebs – JI-BINC – Breeding resident and passage migrant.

Comparison with previous atlas:

1984-882003-07
Breeding confirmed209155
Breeding probable214278
Breeding possible2413
No of tetrads occupied447 (of 478)446 (of 490)
Percentage of tetrads93.5%91%

The colourful male Chaffinch, with its distinctive reddish pink underparts, blue grey crown and bold white wing bars, is a familiar sight throughout the county. The short but emphatic and frequently uttered song is a characteristic sound in the summertime countryside. The female is a browner version of the male.

The Chaffinch nests in trees and bushes, being found in woodland, hedgerows, parks and gardens, being absent in the county only from the tops of the Preseli Hills and most of the offshore islands. It has usually bred on the partly wooded Caldey Island and has nested on Ramsey Island, most recently in 2006.

Little change in distribution was detected between the two surveys. Chaffinches take up territory in late winter but do not normally lay eggs until early May. With such a long period of song it seems unlikely that many were overlooked, even in marginal tetrads. The population estimate accompanying the 1984-88 survey was based on census results from reserves which were mostly woodland plots. The resultant value of 120 pairs per tetrad was applied to the whole county. However, woodland in the county represents only about the equivalent of 11 tetrads, the remainder being mostly farmland which carries smaller densities of Chaffinches.

A reappraisal required an assessment which accommodates farmland. The 1988-91 National Atlas supplied an average density for the UK. If this is applied to the 1984-88 distribution, a revised estimate for Pembrokeshire at that time was about 38,000 pairs. The BBS noted a decrease of 13% in Wales between 1994 and 2007, which if applied to the earlier estimate, suggests a breeding population of 29,000 pairs in Pembrokeshire at the end of 2007.    

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

Records extracted from the Pembrokeshire Bird Reports which may contain more detail than shown here

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Chaffinch – 1994

Fringilla coelebs – JI-BINC – Breeding resident and passage migrant

1984-88
Breeding confirmed209
Breeding probable214
Breeding possible24
No of tetrads occupied447 (of 478)
Percentage of tetrads93.5%

“A common resident” wrote Mathew (1894); Lockley et al. (1949) noted the Chaffinch as an “abundant resident”. It is a widespread breeding species today (see map). Using survey data from Dyfed Wildlife Trust reserves and other plots an estimated density of 120 pairs per tetrad suggests a total Pembrokeshire population of 54,000 pairs.

There is a massive through passage from October to mid-December, when flocks simultaneously pass southwards across the coast but the majority head west to north-west towards Ireland. Thousands of birds are involved; on clear days many pass too high to be seen but remain detectable to the ear. Large numbers drop out to feed in the coastal fields or pause on the offshore islands before continuing their migration. Records of ringed birds involve France, Belgium and Sweden, suggesting that these migrants are largely Continental in origin.

Chaffinches are common in winter but they are probably less numerous than they were earlier this century. The mixed farming and open rickyards of former times have mostly given way to dairy farming, which provides fewer feeding opportunities for the bird.

Lockley (1957) described a strong visible return passage from March to April which has not been detected in recent times, although a few Chaffinches still appear on the offshore islands during this period.

Donovan J.W. & Rees G.H, 1994, Birds of Pembrokeshire

LOCKLEY, R.M. 1957. Pembrokeshire. London, Robert Hale.

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Chaffinch – 1980s winter

Fringilla coelebs – JI-BINC – Breeding resident and passage migrant

The BTO winter atlas showed that chaffinches were present in virtually all 10km squares during the winters of 1981-82, 1982-82 and 1983-84.

The darker the colour, the higher the relative total count for each 10km square.  The darkest blue represents over 360 birds, with the highest count being 1258 in SM80.

However, it should be noted that the figures show a high correlation with the number of recording cards returned (therefore related to recording effort) for each 10km square. 

Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007

Data collected by volunteers for the BTO. Lack, P. 1986 Atlas of wintering birds in Britain and Ireland. T & A.D. Poyser.

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Chaffinch – 1968-72 breeding

Fringilla coelebs – JI-BINC – Breeding resident and passage migrant

Red = breeding confirmed

Orange = breeding probable

The density of chaffinches estimated for the whole of Britain, was 2,000 or more breeding pairs per occupied 10km square, and the chaffinch was considered to be one of the commonest birds in Britain.

Data collected by volunteers for the BTO. Sharrock, J.T.R., (1977). The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A.D. Poyser.

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British Chaffinch – 1949

Fringilla coelebs gengleri

Abundant flocks arrive in October, coming down over Cardigan Bay from the north-west; tens of thousands then strike the northern and western coasts of the county.  Ringed individuals trapped in Pembrokeshire in winter have been recovered subsequently in Belgium.  It is, therefore, probable that these winter flocks include representatives of the Continental race F.c.coelebs.

R.M.Lockley, G.C.S.Ingram, H.M.Salmon, 1949, The Birds of Pembrokeshire, The West Wales Field Society

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Chaffinch – 1894

Fringilla coelebs

A common resident, by far the most numerous, after the Common Linnet, of the whole finch tribe in the county.

Mr. Dix thought it ” by far the most numerous of the Conirostres, exceeding in numbers all the others combined.” He adds that he had never noticed any separation of the sexes, or addition to its numbers during the winter. He thought the Chaffinch the only small bird that, in his district, was as numerously represented as it is in the south and east of England. We do not agree with him in this opinion. The Common Linnet and the Yellow Hammer, not to mention several other small birds, are quite as abundant in Pembrokeshire as we ever met them in the English counties we were familiar with.

At Stone Hall our Chaffinches were remarkably tame, very often coming into the house to pay us visits, and they would build their nests as close to us as they could in the creepers trained around our windows. One pair that did so came in daily at the dining-room window to feed on any seeds that fell on the floor from our various cages, and finding the eggs in the nest to be unusually large and brightly coloured, the effect, we considered, of the hen bird’s good feeding, we appropriated one or two of them for our collection.

“During the severe winter in January, 1867,” writes Mr. Dix, “several Chaffinches were frozen to death. On the night of the 14th the thermometer fell to five degrees below zero; the next morning four of these birds were brought to me quite dead and stiff, — all of them had their heads under their wings as though they died asleep, — doubtless starvation had something to do with it, but I am persuaded the cold killed them. The 30th October following, I saw the largest flock I ever noticed. There must have been five or six hundred birds; they were in a small field close to the mountains; I watched them for some time without seeing a single bird of any other species.”

Mathew M.A. 1894, Birds of Pembrokeshire and its Islands

More about the Chaffinch in Pembrokeshire


Chaffinch

Fringilla coelebs – JI-BINC Breeding resident and passage migrant.

Chaffinch – 2012 Winter

Fringilla coelebs – JI-BINC Breeding resident and passage migrant. The chaffinch is widespread across Pembrokeshire in winter, the only gaps being on the Preseli tops and Castlemartin Range – both open exposed areas. Chaffinch numbers have been boosted during the winter months when the sedentary breeding population has been joined by immigrant continental birds. Bertram […]

Chaffinch – 2008 migration

Fringilla coelebs – JI-BINC Breeding resident and passage migrant. Many Chaffinches from northern Europe, particularly Scandinavia, migrate in the autumn down the Continental west coast, crossing either over the southern North Sea or the English Channel to winter in Britain. Some continue through Britain to Ireland. Lockley et al (1949) described Chaffinch migration of tens […]

Chaffinch – 2003-07 breeding

Fringilla coelebs – JI-BINC – Breeding resident and passage migrant. Comparison with previous atlas: 1984-88 2003-07 Breeding confirmed 209 155 Breeding probable 214 278 Breeding possible 24 13 No of tetrads occupied 447 (of 478) 446 (of 490) Percentage of tetrads 93.5% 91% The colourful male Chaffinch, with its distinctive reddish pink underparts, blue grey […]

Chaffinch – 1994

Fringilla coelebs – JI-BINC – Breeding resident and passage migrant 1984-88 Breeding confirmed 209 Breeding probable 214 Breeding possible 24 No of tetrads occupied 447 (of 478) Percentage of tetrads 93.5% “A common resident” wrote Mathew (1894); Lockley et al. (1949) noted the Chaffinch as an “abundant resident”. It is a widespread breeding species today […]

Chaffinch – 1980s winter

Fringilla coelebs – JI-BINC – Breeding resident and passage migrant The BTO winter atlas showed that chaffinches were present in virtually all 10km squares during the winters of 1981-82, 1982-82 and 1983-84. The darker the colour, the higher the relative total count for each 10km square.  The darkest blue represents over 360 birds, with the highest count […]

Chaffinch – 1968-72 breeding

Fringilla coelebs – JI-BINC – Breeding resident and passage migrant Red = breeding confirmed Orange = breeding probable The density of chaffinches estimated for the whole of Britain, was 2,000 or more breeding pairs per occupied 10km square, and the chaffinch was considered to be one of the commonest birds in Britain. More about the […]

Chaffinch – 1894

Species account from the 1894 ‘Birds of Pembrokeshire and its Islands’ by Rev M A Mathew