In Our Backyard Environment

The bird that makes the sound of money

The common Chiffchaff

The common Chiffchaff   | Photo Credit: Abhishek Gulshan

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The Common Chiffchaff is a warbler that is making its winter appearance

Low temperatures in the city gives us bird watchers a cause for great celebration. Bird sightings go up as many winter migrants make their way into Delhi-NCR, keeping all of us on the lookout every day.

One bird to visit the city is the Common Chiffchaff or Phylloscopus collybita, as it’s known scientifically. Phylloscopus’ literally translates to leaf-seeker and collybita has been derived from the latin word ‘collybista’, meaning the money-changer, from the sound it makes.

In its breeding time, the song of the bird resembles a two-note high-pitched sharp and rhythmic chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff’. In areas where they migrate to, they generally utter a warbling ‘hweet’. The bird has onomatopoeic names in many other languages apart from English, reiterating the significance of its sound. ZilpzapinGerman, Tjiftjaf in Dutch, and siff- saff in Welsh.

The Common Chiffchaff is a small-sized bird, mostly 10-11 cm in length. It is often found flitting in trees in our backyard. The only way to describe it is to say it’s plain— brown overall with a dull white or yellowish front and a dull white to grey-brown underside. The only colour it has is yellow/green at the bend of its wings, extending to its rump.

The wings are square-ended or have a slightly forked tail. It has a short, straight and slender blackish bill and long, generally dark-coloured legs. Both males and females look very similar.

It is most often found in small groups of its own kind, other leaf-warblers or similar-sized birds, looking for food. The bird is an insectivore, flycatches noticeably in trees or in low vegetation. It has an upright stance while perched.

The species seems dependent on trees, but is often observed hopping on the ground or creeping in ground vegetation. It feeds making its way from ground level all the way up to the tree canopy. In winter in our city, it is often found in gardens, marshes and near water or damp areas.

The Chiffchaff breeds in the Himalayas and mainly inhabits open forests, mountain scrubs, orchards and gardens. They’ll be around through winter, right upto May.

Movements are very quick and frenzied, with noticeable and frequent wing-flicking, like most leaf-warblers. Tail movements are pronounced with flicking and wagging vertically and even sideways flicking, much like Hume’s Warbler, from our previous article.

If you are not a bird watcher, you may confuse a female sparrow with this bird, but know that sparrows are bigger, with broader beaks to be able to crush grains.

The writer is the founder of NINOX - Owl About Nature, a nature-awareness initiative. He is the Delhi-NCR reviewer for Ebird, a Cornell University initiative, monitoring rare sightings of birds. He formerly led a programme of WWF India.

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 6:17:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/the-bird-that-makes-the-sound-of-money/article30123275.ece

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