The first Chiffchaff

What bird marks the start of Spring for you? For me it’s the Chiffchaff.

It’s always a thrill to see and hear summer migrants returning to this country after they have spent the winter in warmer climes. The first summer migrant to arrive in Belgium is always the Chiffchaff.

I was walking through my local woodland yesterday and was delighted to hear the first Chiffchaff of the year. This little warbler has one of the most tuneless songs – basically a two-note ditty – but it brings me such delight when I first hear it. It marks the end of winter and the start of Spring.

Interestingly, this is literally the case. The Chiffchaff always seemed to time its first appearance very close to the first day of Spring, so March 20, 21 or 22. This year though, I heard the first Chiffchaff on March 15: the earliest date I have ever heard one. That’s the effect of climate change. It will soon be over-wintering here, which has happened with its cousin the Blackcap Warbler.

So what does the Chiffchaff look and sound like? I don’t have a photo of one as they are (a) small, (b) secretive, and (c) fond of singing away at the very top of a tree. So here’s one from a more successful Chiffchaff photographer:

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) by Kathy Büscher from Pixabay

You stand more chance of hearing one than seeing one, and here is it’s unmistakable song:

Recording of Chiffchaff song by Gianluca Congi

Well, I did warn you that it’s not going to hit the top of the bird song charts. But I’m sure you immediately realized that the bird is named onomatopoeically for its simple chiff-chaff song. It works in other languages too: Dutch tjiftjaf, German Zilpzalp, Welsh siff-saff and Finnish tiltaltti.

Let me know (if you live where Chiffchaffs live) if and when you hear the first Chiffchaff. Or what bird for you is the first sign of Spring where you live?


  1. Nice blog Denzil – great to have the sound recording. Chiffchaffs in abundance in southern Spain in January but they haven’t arrived here in any numbers in the south west of England yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had to look up these as I am not familiar with them Audrey. It seems the Bewick’s Wren is similar to our Eurasian Wren, and with a similar song. The House Finch certainly looks pretty in its pink plumage. It’s fascinating to see different but similar birds in different continents.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful bird Denzil and thinking today of my Irish uncle r.I.p. who used to know all the local bird sounds ‘ah, that’s the ……’
    In Ireland the cuckoo always welcomed back the spring but in my uncle’s later years I used to hear him saying ‘not much word from the cuckoo these days’.
    Happy St Patrick’s day Denzil and thank you for sharing such a beautiful post.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s