The Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), also called a spink, scobby, shellapple, wetbird, or roberd among other names (see below), is a small passerine bird in the finch family Fringillidae. Its 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.
This bird is widespread and very familiar throughout Europe. It is the most common finch in western Europe. Its range extends into western Asia, northwestern Africa, the Azores and Madeira. In the Canary Islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria it coexists with its sister species, the endemic Blue Chaffinch.
It was introduced from Britain into a number of its overseas territories in the 18th and 19th centuries. In South Africa a very small breeding colony in the suburb of Camps Bay near Cape Town is the only remnant of one such introduction.
The name chaffinch comes from Old English ceaffinc, literally "chaff finch", and is the source of the name chaffy. The bird is so named for its tendency to peck the grain left out in farmyards, 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"). The names scobby, cobby, scoppy, and scop refer to this pecking ("scop" is a Cumbrian word meaning to hit).
The chaffinch's appearance has given rise to the names whitewing, white finch, copper finch, pied finch, flecky flocker, and robinet ("little robin"). The name shellapple or shillapple (also spelled sheldapple, sheldafle, or archaically sheldaple) is from "sheld", a rare word meaning variegated, and "dapple". This name also appears in the metathetic form apple-sheeler (and its corruption upper shealer). The dialectal names shelly, skelly, and sheely are derived from these.
Spink and the less common names pink and pinkie are both 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. This unique call has inspired the names twink, tweet, weet-weet, shilfa or shilfer, and shulfie. Popular belief holds that the chaffinch's song foretells rain, leading to the name wetbird.
The chaffinch is also known by the names beech finch, horse finch (and the variation hoose finch), buck finch, roberd, boldie, and shellapple shiltie. English naturalist Charles Swainson recorded 36 names for the chaffinch in his Provincial Names and Folk Lore of British Birds (1885), including apple bird, brichtie, brisk finch, briskie, bullspink, bully, chaffie, charbob, chink chaffey, chink chink, daffinch, maze finch, pea finch, pine finch, pinkety, pink twink, sheelfa, and snabby.
It uses a range of habitats, but open woodland is favoured, although it is common in gardens and on farmland. 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.
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. 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.
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. ( song (help·info))
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.1 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 (Thorpe 1958).
Distinctive subspecies include
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.