Chaffinches appeared in the top 10 this year for England, Wales & Scotland in the Big Garden Birdwatch. I hadn’t considered them as Garden Birds until seeing last year’s results and then discovering them in my own garden a couple of months ago.
For many of us Chaffinches fall slightly under the radar, I know a few of our customers didn’t realise they had them until they were pointed out but actually The chaffinch is one of the most widespread and abundant bird in Britian and Ireland.
So what makes them such a wonderful find and how can you attract them and keep them visiting your garden?
What do they look like?
The Chaffinch is a dimorphic bird, in other words the male and female look different. The male is probably the most obvious to us, with his grogeous red body, black and white wings and his blue tone head. The female is a browner colour — the one in my garden blends perfectly with my shed. They have a cream buff body and head but still retain the black and white wings.
Chaffinches are quite hard to spot, they don’t tend to come on to feeders and usually I am aware in my garden when they’re hungry because I see them trying to peck at the feeders awkwardly! They usually feed under feeders, hedges or trees and you might not notice them until they fly off, it is then you get the gorgeous flash of their wings.
How common are they and where will I see them?
There is a breeding population of around 6.2 million here in the UK and they are resident everywhere all year around. They used to be a lot common than they are now, like many birds they have shrunk in numbers but they are still under Green Status which is fantastic news for us garden bird lovers.
They started out life as woodland birds, preferring habitats with deciduous tress but they have now adapted to different areas although they love trees. You will find them most commonly in gardens that have hedges, shrubs and trees and they can still be found in farmland areas and parks.
The female chaffinch rules
Although the male might have all the colour, he certainly doesn’t wear the trousers. The males are territorial and will start defending their areas as early as Feburary even though nest building doesn’t start until early April and a little later in bad conditions. Despite their dominance outside of the breeding season, it is the female that is the boss in the summer with the male learning to keep his distance when he accompanies her around the breeding territory.
You might notice when you observe them that when the female is eating the male may sit in a tree. I rarely see my twosome eating together, the female always eats first and I see her lovely red partner sitting watching over her — I’ve called him Charles.
Why do I sometimes see more chaffinches?
Chaffinch numbers often rise during the autumn, they are sometimes joined by large numbers of chaffinches from scandinavia. In previous years the extra visitors have doubled the numbers of chaffinches here in the UK. Large flocks can be seen darting about the place, these are usually visitors with the smaller pairs and groups being our native locals.
The numbers that you might see in your garden outside of this season will depend on the beech tree crops. When the crops are bad, you will find more chaffinches finding solice in your garden feeder. I do wonder if mine have arrived and been more visible the last couple of years because the weather has been so bad for beech tree yields.
Keep the feeders clean to help your chaffinches
Chaffinches can catch trichomonosis, which can be as deadly to chaffinches as it can to greenfinches. It is really important that you keep your feeders clean regualrly, but also that you move them. It is often overlooked but having large patches of ground feeding can also spread disease. It is spread through saliva and that can be left on the ground and so can bird droppings that can also carry the disease.
I would advise moving your feeder to a new patch for the ground feeders every so often or pave underneath it so it is easily cleanable or add a wild meadow/shrubs under it so that it is not worn away like grass.
They love finch foods & sunflower hearts
I’ve been lucky enough to have them in my garden for a while now, so I have been doing lots of food experiments to see what really attracts them and makes them come again. So far the winners are Finch & Siskin food which is our own blend and includes lots of things like rape seed, hempseed and a range of grass seeds.
As well as this they love Sunflower Hearts — I mean what bird doesn’t! They are also partial to suet, I put this out sometimes and they quite happily eat it up, they do prefer the berry one to the insect one, that might just be a personal preference for my two!
I don’t add it to the feeder as they don’t use it. I have created a more secluded spot for them near a crab apple tree that they like. It is outside my blending sheds, so they are quite visible but they seem to be happy eating around their rather than on the feeders.