Easily confused

willow warbler

Willow warbler, Fairburn Ings RSPB reserve

Summer is a great time for bird spotting, with all the summer visitors such as chiff chaffs, willow warbers, whitethroats and blackcaps (some of these to be featured in future blogs). Everywhere we’ve walked so far this summer, we’ve heard lots of these birds and learnt to identify their songs.

This week we’re concentrating on the willow warbler and chiff chaff, which are very much alike apart from their song.  The chiff chaff is a plump brownish olive bird with whitish buff below and usually has dark legs.  Their nest is a grassy dome on or quite close to the ground.  The voice is unmistakable: an explosive “chiff chaff” continually repeated – you can hear these all around at the moment!  The willow warbler is the same size with yellowy olive above and whitish underparts and usually pale legs.  I say usually as we have seen willow warblers with dark legs and chiff chaffs with lighter ones!  The willow warbler song is a melodic descending warble ending in a flourish – quite different from the chiff chaff’s.  The song of the willow warbler is a lovely sound, and we have heard these at Eaton, down the Chesterfield Canal, and in many other places, including a visit to the RSPB at Fairburn Ings (near Castleford) last summer.  We’ve probably heard more chiff chaffs: these are everywhere, including the River Idle, local gardens, and Kings Park.

We find them quite difficult to identify by appearance – as you can see they are very similar.  The best way to identify them is by their song.  Remember, the chiff chaff always repeats its name (although sometimes it gets confused and goes “chiff chiff chiff chaff” – as we heard down the canal recently!).  It’s great to listen to and learn birdsongs, and become aware of the birds around you without even seeing them, which can be difficult in the summer months when the trees are covered in leaves.

Keep listening and looking – they are everywhere!

chiff chaff


Chiff chaff, Kings Park


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