The cricket player of the finches. His song sounds like a bowler running up and then releasing the ball, a series of descending notes with a “ker-pow” at the end which he sings loudly from early spring just to remind the girls what a good cricket player he is. He stops singing around the end of June as the school cricket season finishes. The Chaffinch also has a ‘rain’ call which consists of one “zreep” note repeated once a second for many minutes, just to let you know he is feeling pretty miserable in the wet. The monotony and boredom in this song really stands out.
The Chaffinch is similar in size to a House Sparrow, blue-grey above and salmon pink below with pink cheeks, a white shoulder patch and a white wing stripe. The tail is long-ish with white outer feathers. All the white makes him easy to see when flying away from you and makes the Chaffinch easy to tell apart from the tits. The female Chaffinch is a lot browner and not half as flashy.
They form finch bands in winter with other finches - and sparrows! These flocks are often single sex, as who wants to talk to girls about cricket.
Chaffinches are big seed eaters, though partial to a juicy caterpillar or beech mast (a fancy name for beech tree seeds) when there are lots to go around. Generally it feeds on the ground, but can manage a bird feeder if pushed. They also enjoy picking the ground at a good picnic site or in pub gardens.
The Chaffinch builds a lovely cup-shaped nest in the fork of a tree that has an outer layer of lichen and spiders' webs and an inner layer of moss and grass lined with feathers. About 4 eggs are laid in May. The female alone incubates the eggs as the male is too busy playing cricket. The eggs hatch after 14 days and both parents feed them for a further 3 weeks while teaching them how to bat.
Abundant and very widespread, there are about 6 million Chaffinches. The British Chaffinches generally stay put, but their Scandinavian cousins pop over in the winter for a good chat and boost the numbers further. Their Latin name is ‘fringilla coelebs’ which isn’t frilly celebrity but ‘finch unmarried’ which is what happens if you play too much cricket and flock with the boys.