Fringilla coelebs, male About this sound Birdsong
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Fringillidae
Genus: Fringilla
Species: F. coelebs
Binomial name
Fringilla coelebs
Linnaeus, 1758

     Summer      Resident      Winter      Introduced
     canariensis      spodiogenys[2]

The Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), also called by a wide variety of other names, is a small passerine bird in the finch family Fringillidae.



The Chaffinch's large double white wing bars, white tail edges and greenish rump easily identify this 14–16 cm long species. The breeding male is unmistakable, with his reddish underparts and a blue-grey cap. The female is drabber and greener, but still obvious.


The name chaffinch comes from Old English ceaffinc, literally "chaff finch", and is the source of the nickname chaffy or chaffie.[3][4][5] The bird is so named for its tendency to peck the grain left out in farmyards,[6] a habit which has also garnered it the names wheatbird and wheatsel-bird or wheatsel bird (from "wheatsel", a rare word meaning wheat drilling), the latter used primarily of male chaffinches (or "cock-chaffinches").[7][8][9] The names scobby, cobby, scoppy, and scop refer to this pecking ("scop" is a Cumbrian word meaning to hit).[10][11][12][13]

The chaffinch's appearance has given rise to the names whitewing, white finch, copper finch, flecky flocker, pied finch, and robinet ("little robin").[13][14][15][16][17] The name shellapple or shillapple (also spelled sheldapple, sheldafle, or archaically sheldaple) is from "sheld", a rare word meaning variegated, and "dapple".[18][19][20][21] This name also appears in the metathetic forms apple-sheeler, its corruption upper shealer, and apple bird.[5][22] The dialectal names shelly, skelly, sheely, shiltie, shilfer, shilfa, sheelfa, and shulfie are derived from these.[4][5][12][22][23][24]

Spink and the less common names pink, pinkie, and pinkety are of the same Proto-Indo-European origin as finch (confer Greek spiza, chaffinch, and French pinson, finch), and are possibly imitative of the bird's song.[5][12][23][25][26][27] This unique call has inspired the names twink, tweet, weet-weet, chink chink, chink chaffey, and pink twink.[5][28][29][30] Popular belief holds that the chaffinch's song foretells rain, leading to the name wetbird.[31]

The chaffinch is also known by the names beech finch, horse finch (and the variation hoose finch), buck finch, roberd, boldie, and the reduplicative shellapple shiltie.[4][12][15][17][22][23][29] English naturalist Charles Swainson recorded 36 names for the chaffinch in his Provincial Names and Folk Lore of British Birds (1885), including brichtie, brisk finch, briskie, bullspink, bully, charbob, daffinch, maze finch, pea finch, pine finch, and snabby.[5]

Distribution and habitat

This bird is widespread and very familiar throughout Europe. It is the most common finch in western Europe, and the second most common bird in the British Isles. Its range extends into western Asia, northwestern Africa, and Macaronesia, where it has many distinctive island forms. In the Canary Islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria, the Chaffinch has colonised twice, giving rise to the endemic species known as the Blue Chaffinch and a distinctive subspecies. In each of the Azores, in Madeira, and in the rest of the Canaries there is a single species on each island.

It was introduced from Britain into a number of its overseas territories in the 18th and 19th centuries. In New Zealand it is a common species. In South Africa a very small breeding colony in the suburbs of Constantia, Hout Bay and Camps Bay near Cape Town is the only remnant of one such introduction.

It uses a range of habitats, but open woodland is favoured, although it is common in gardens and on farmland.


Many subspecies of the Chaffinch have been described, though not all are always concurrently accepted.[32][33] They include:

Subspecies occurring in continental Eurasia, North Africa and on Mediterranian islands:

Fringilla coelebs palmae on La Palma

Subspecies of the Macaronesian radiation:


This bird is not migratory in the milder parts of its range, but vacates the colder regions in winter. The coelebs part of its name means "bachelor". This species was named by Linnaeus; in his home country of Sweden, where the females depart in winter, but the males often remain.[34] This species forms loose flocks outside the breeding season, sometimes mixed with Bramblings. This bird occasionally strays to eastern North America, although some sightings may be escapees.

It builds its nest in a tree fork, and decorates the exterior with moss or lichen to make it less conspicuous. It lays about six eggs, which are greenish-blue with purple speckling.[35]

The main food of the chaffinch is seeds, but unlike most finches, the young are fed extensively on insects, and adults also eat insects in the breeding season.[35]

The powerful song is very well known, and its fink or vink sounding call gives the finch family its English name. Males typically sing two or three different song types, and there are regional dialects too.[citation needed] (About this sound song )

The acquisition by the young chaffinch of its song was the subject of an influential study by British ethologist William Thorpe. Thorpe determined that if the chaffinch is not exposed to the adult male's song during a certain critical period after hatching, it will never properly learn the song.[citation needed] He also found that in adult chaffinches, castration eliminates song, but injection of testosterone induces such birds to sing even in November, when they are normally silent.[36][37]

In captivity

The chaffinch is a popular pet bird in many countries. In Belgium, the ancient traditional sport of vinkenzetting pits male chaffinches against one another in a contest for the most bird calls in an hour.

In culture

The Chaffinch is depicted in a marginal decoration of the 15th century English illuminated manuscript the Sherborne Missal.[38]


It has been obtained by Antonio Arnaiz-Villena et al.[39]



  1. ^ BirdLife International (2009). "Fringilla coelebs". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  2. ^ Distribution map compiled from Snow & Perrins Birds of the Western Palearctic, Harrison An Atlas of the Birds of the Western Palaearctic, and Clement et al. Finches & Sparrows.
  3. ^ "Chaffinch". American Heritage Dictionary. Retrieved 2 December 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c Knight, Charles (1866). The English Cyclopædia: Natural History. London: Bradbury, Evans, & Co. p. 965. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Swainson, Charles (1885). Provincial Names and Folk Lore of British Birds. London: Trübner & Co.. pp. 62–63. 
  6. ^ "Chaffinch". Encarta. Archived from the original on tober 2009. 
  7. ^ "Wheatbird" in Webster's 1913
  8. ^ "Wheatsel bird" in Webster's 1913
  9. ^ Cozens-Hardy, Sydney (1893). Broad Norfolk. Norwich: Norfolk News Co., Ltd. p. 3. 
  10. ^ "Scobby" in Webster's 1913
  11. ^ Swann, Harry Kirke (1913). A Dictionary of English and Folk-names of British Birds. p. 207. 
  12. ^ a b c d MacPherson, Hugh Alexander (1892). A Vertebrate Fauna of Lakeland. Edinburgh: David Douglas. p. 138. 
  13. ^ a b Dickinson, William (1859). A Glossary of the Words and Phrases of Cumberland. London: John Russell Smith. pp. 38 and 97. 
  14. ^ "Whitewing" in Webster's 1913
  15. ^ a b Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England. London: John Murray. 1894. p. 78. 
  16. ^ "Chaffinch" in Webster's 1913
  17. ^ a b "Robinet" in Webster's 1913
  18. ^ "Shellapple" in Webster's 1913
  19. ^ Gilpin, Sidney (1874). The Songs and Ballads of Cumberland. London: John Russell Smith. p. 228. 
  20. ^ "Sheld" in Webster's 1913
  21. ^ "Sheldafle" in Webster's 1913
  22. ^ a b c Muirhead, George (1889). The Birds of Berwickshire. Edinburgh: David Douglas. p. 162. 
  23. ^ a b c Morris, Francis Orpen (1852). A History of British Birds. London: Groombridge & Sons. p. 236. 
  24. ^ "Shilfa" in Webster's 1913
  25. ^ "Spink" in Webster's 1913
  26. ^ "Finch" in Merriam–Webster
  27. ^ "Finch" in the Online Etymology Dictionary
  28. ^ "Twink" in Webster's 1913
  29. ^ a b Morris, Francis Orpen (1892). A Natural History of the Nests and Eggs of British Birds. London: John C. Nimmo. p. 1. 
  30. ^ "Weet-weet" in Webster's 1913
  31. ^ "Wetbird" in Webster's 1913
  32. ^ "Fringilla coelebs Linnaeus, 1758". ITIS. Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  33. ^ Tsvelykh, A.N. (2003). "Comparative analysis and distribution of Fringilla coelebs subspecies (Aves, Fringillidae) from the crimea, the caucasus, and transcaspian region" (in Russian). Zoologičeskij žurnal 82 (10): 1250–1257. 
  34. ^ Newton, 1973, p. 24
  35. ^ a b Newton, 1973, p. 23
  36. ^ Thorpe, 1958
  37. ^ Metzmacher, M. 1995. La transmission du chant chez le Pinson des arbres (Fringilla c. coelebs) : phase sensible et rôle des tuteurs chez les oiseaux captifs. Alauda 63 : 123 – 134.
  38. ^ Clark, Kenneth (1977). Animals and Men. London: Thames and Hudson. pp. 107. ISBN 0-500-23257-1. 
  39. ^ Arnaiz-Villena, Antonio; Alvarez-Tejado M., Ruiz-del-Valle V., García-de-la-Torre C., Varela P, Recio M. J., Ferre S., Martinez-Laso J. (1999). "Rapid Radiation of Canaries (Genus Serinus)". Mol. Biol. Evol. 16:2–11. 


  • Forktail 15: 87. 
  • Lynch, A., Plunkett, G.M., Baker, A.J. and Jenkins, P.F. (1989). "A model of cultural evolution of chaffinch song derived with the meme concept." The American Naturalist, 133, 634-653
  • Newton, Ian (1973). Finches. The New Naturalist Library 55. New York: Taplinger. ISBN 0-8008-2720-1. 
  • Thorpe, W. (1958). The learning of song patterns by birds, with special reference to the song of the Chaffinch, "Fringilla coelebs". Ibis 100:535-570.

External links

Listen to the chaffinch at:

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Chaffinch — Chaf finch, n. [Cf. {Chiff chaff}.] (Zo[ o]l.) A bird of Europe ({Fringilla c[oe]lebs}), having a variety of very sweet songs, and highly valued as a cage bird; called also {copper finch}. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • chaffinch — (n.) Fringilla cælebs, O.E. ceaffinc, lit. chaff finch, so called for its habit of eating waste grain on farms. See CHAFF (Cf. chaff) + FINCH (Cf. finch) …   Etymology dictionary

  • chaffinch — ► NOUN ▪ a common finch, the male of which has a bluish head, pink underparts, and dark wings with a white flash. ORIGIN Old English …   English terms dictionary

  • chaffinch — [chaf′inch΄] n. [OE ceaffinc: see CHAFF & FINCH: it eats chaff and grain] a small European finch (Fringilla coelebs) that has a white patch on each shoulder: often kept in a cage as a pet …   English World dictionary

  • chaffinch — /chaf inch/, n. a common finch, Fringilla coelebs, of the Old World, often kept as a pet. [1400 50; late ME chaffynche, OE ceaffinc. See CHAFF1, FINCH] * * * Songbird (Fringilla coelebs) that breeds in gardens and farmlands of Europe and northern …   Universalium

  • chaffinch — UK [ˈtʃæfɪntʃ] / US [ˈtʃæˌfɪntʃ] noun [countable] Word forms chaffinch : singular chaffinch plural chaffinches a small bird that is common in Europe and Asia. The male has a red brown breast and a grey head …   English dictionary

  • chaffinch — [OE] Etymologically, a chaffinch is a finch which gets its food by pecking amongst the chaff and other grain debris in the barnyard. The word chaff itself (Old English ceaf) probably goes back to a prehistoric Germanic base *kaf , *kef ‘chew’,… …   The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins

  • chaffinch — [[t]tʃæ̱fɪntʃ[/t]] chaffinches N COUNT A chaffinch is a small European bird. Male chaffinches have reddish brown fronts and grey heads …   English dictionary

  • Chaffinch — kikilis statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas atitikmenys: lot. Fringilla coelebs angl. Chaffinch vok. Buchfink …   Paukščių anatomijos terminai

  • chaffinch — paprastasis kikilis statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas atitikmenys: lot. Fringilla coelebs angl. chaffinch vok. Buchfink, m rus. зяблик, m; обыкновенный зяблик, m pranc. pinson des arbres, m ryšiai: platesnis terminas – kikiliai sinonimas –… …   Paukščių pavadinimų žodynas

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