chaffinch



chaffinch defined in 1930 year

chaffinch - Chaffinch;
chaffinch - Forehead black; crown and nape greyish blue; back and scapulars chestnut tinged with green; rump green; breast chestnut-red, fading into white on the belly; wings black, with two white bands; coverts of the secondaries tipped with yellow; tail black, the two middle feathers ash-grey, the two outer, on each side, black, with a broad, oblique white band. Female: head, back, and scapulars ash-brown tinged with olive; lower parts greyish white; the transverse bands less distinct. Length, six inches.

The chaffinch is one of the most popular song-birds in Britain; it is very much with us. being universal in its distribution in this country, and a bird that attaches itself to the neighbourhood of houses, an inhabitant of gardens and orchards, and a resident throughout the year. He is a pretty bird, and, if not a brilliant songster, is at all events a very vigorous one; his lively, ringing lyric, being short and composed of notes invariably repeated in the same order, is capable of being remembered longer and more vividly reproduced in the mind than any other song. Sitting by the fireside in January, you can mentally hear the song of the chaffinch; but the brain is incapable of registering the more copious and varied bird-music in the same perfect way - the music, for instance, of the skylark and thrush and garden-warbler. It is not strange that, when Browning wished to be back in England in April, he thought of the spring song of the chaffinch, before that of any other species.

O to be in England
Now that April's there;
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs of the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England now!

The chaffinch makes the most of his song. He appears, indeed, very much in earnest in whatever he does, his character in this respect offering a strong contrast to that of the goldfinch, siskin, and various pther melodists. They sing at all times, anywhere and anyhow. With the chaffinch, singing is a business just as Important as any other - feeding, fighting, pairing, and building. He flies to a tree, and deliberately takes his stand, often on the most commanding twig, and there delivers his few notes with the utmost energy, and so rapidly that they almost run into each other, ending with a fine flourish. At regular intervals of a few seconds the performance is repeated, the bird standing erect and motionless all the time; until, having given the fullest and most complete expression to his feelings, he flies away, to engage elsewhere in some task of another kind.

It is a loud song and a joyous sound - ' gay as a chaffinch ' is a proverbial saying of the French; but there is also a note of defiance in the song, as in the crow of a cock. Chaffinches sing, as cocks crow, against each other, and the music often ends in a combat. It is not, as some imagine, that there is a spirit of emulation in birds with regard to their singing - that they are rival musicians, like the shepherds in the old pastorals, that contended in song for mastery: it is simply that the cock chaffinch, like the robin and some other species, is a bird of a jealous and pugnacious disposition, and can brook no other male chaffinch near him. Another's singing tells him that another male is present, and his jealousy is at once excited. If the sound is at a distance, he will content himself by answering song with song; if near, he will quickly seek out the singer, and drive him from his chosen ground. It is this jealous temper of the chaffinch that gives it value to the bird-fanciers of a base kind.

The chaffinch is first heard before the end of February. He pairs early in March, and in April begins to build. The nest is placed in a shrub or tree, in a cleft, or on a horizontal branch. An apple, pear, or cherry tree in an orchard is a favourite site; but any tree, from an evergreen in a garden to the largest oak or elm, may be selected, and the nest may be at any height from the ground from half a dozen to fifty feet. It is a very beautiful structure, formed outwardly of lichen, moss, and dry grass, compactly woven together, and mixed with cobwebs; the cup-shaped inside is lined with hair, vegetable down, and feathers. In most cases the outer portion of the nest is composed of materials that give it a close resemblance to the tree it is built on. Thus, on an oak or apple tree overgrown with grey lichen, or on a silver birch, the framework is chiefly composed of lichen; but in deep green bushes evergreen moss is used. The nest is built by the female, but the male assists in collecting and bringing materials. A fortnight, or longer, is taken to complete this elaborate nest; but from the beginning, and even before the nest is begun, the birds exhibit the greatest excitement and distress if the chosen tree is approached, flying round and flitting from branch to branch, incessantly uttering their well-known alarm-notes, usually spelt pink-pink or spink spink, a clear, penetrating sound, slightly metallic in character; also another sound, a lower and somewhat harsh note of anxiety.

The eggs are four or five in number, of a pale bluish green, spotted and blotched with dull purplish brown. The young are fed on caterpillars and small insects. The adults, too, subsist chiefly on insects in summer, seeking for them on the ground, and sometimes capturing them in the air, like the flycatcher.

In autumn the chaffinches congregate in flocks, and at this season the separation of the sexes, about which so much has been said since the days of Linnaeus, takes place. Something remains to be known on this subject. It is beyond dispute that large flocks composed entirely of birds of one sex are often met with in autumn and winter, both in this country and on the Continent. The question about which ornithologists differ is as to whether or not a separation of the sexes takes place among chaffinches of British race. Seebohm says: ' It is probable that this peculiar habit is confined to the birds that come to our shores in autumn '; and we have it on good authority that no separation of males from females takes place in the south and west of England. In the month of September, at one place in Scotland, I observed the male chaffinches gathered in small parties of three or four to a dozen individuals; these were the birds belonging to the district; but the females had vanished. Selby observed the same thing many years ago in Scotland and the north of England. One can only suppose that the migratory impulse is a little stronger or earlier in the female of this species, and that the divergence between the sexes, in this respect, becomes greater as we go towards the northern limit of its range.

near chaffinch in Knolik


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