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Birds on the Common: Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff on Wimbledon Common. photo: Les Evans-Hill

Birds on the Common: Chiffchaff

If you are out and about on the Common, you may be interested in some of the bird species that also use the Common for their livelihood. Over the coming weeks, we will be exploring our ‘Common’ birds in more detail, along with updates about what you may see and hear.

This week: Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, two warblers Africa have arrived back and will be busy building nests and raising young. Green woodpeckers can seen foraging for ants and may see Great Spotted Woodpeckers carrying food to hungry youngsters. Nuthatches are very noisy at this time of year with a variety of calls and whistles and if you are lucky, you may also see the diminutive tree creeper climbing up tree trunks looking for food in amongst the bark. Very high pitched tseep calls usually mean a Goldcrest flitting about and Long Tailed Tits will already have young in their incredible nests inter-woven with spiders’ web and lichen. Watch out for newly arrived Swifts that will soon be with as they hurtle through the sky looking for aerial insect prey.

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

Generally, the Chiffchaff is our first returning summer migrant each year. It is one of the ‘leaf’ warblers – its scientific name Phylloscopus means leaf explorer, describing when it is actively looking for insect food such as aphids, spiders and flies.

Chiffchaffs winter in the Mediterranean and western Africa, arriving in the UK from March where their metronomic but upbeat, two note song, is often one of the first sounds of spring.

Predominantly a green-brown colour with dark legs and a pale stripe above the eye, they can often be heard singing from the tops of trees.  There are usually regulars at the Ups and Downs, Mill Hill and Van Buren’s meadow, with the Common probably supporting around six to ten pairs in total.

Birds can sing well into June but are likely to be males shirking any domestic duties as it is generally the female that takes on the nest building, incubation and feeding the young.

The domed nest of moss, dead leaves and grass, often with a thick feather lining, is at ground level and often located in tussocks of grass or amongst brambles, tree roots, or low bushes. Unfortunately, this does make them vulnerable, particularly to domestic cats but also dogs, rats and crows. Five to six eggs will normally be laid in late April/early May. Chicks hatch after about two weeks and fledge two weeks later.

By September, Chiffchaffs are heading back south again and generally gone from the Common by mid-October.  However, with climate change and particularly in London where temperatures may be slightly higher in winter, birds are increasingly overwintering. Whilst some are birds from Scandinavia and Continental Europe, it is possible that individuals from our own breeding population are also now staying for the winter and have become resident.

The RSPB has very good links to what can see and heard in our parks and woodland, as well as activities for all the family. More about the Chiffchaff

Photo: Chiffchaff on Wimbledon Common. Credit: Les Evans-Hill