Telling Willow Warblers from Chiffchaff: This may be a good time to remind ourselves of the difference between these very similar-looking Warblers, which will be arriving steadily from now on. By song, it is easy as they start singing to attract a mate and hold a territory- The Chiffchaff’s two tone song, up-down (in contrast to the Great Tit, hard a lot at the moment, down-up). The Willow Warbler has a lovely long trilling call, not dissimilar to the Wren but without the end-trill. It is harder by sight but should you get a close view of these two Warblers, as they flit around at speed, catching insects, the easiest way to separate them is that the Willow Warbler has paler, pinkish legs and the Chiffchaff has dark legs. The BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) site gives a great video separating them but here are photos from our garden to help, too.
Chiffchaff- these birds are very similar in appearance to their close cousins, the Willow Warbler. Both migrate here from Africa and both are small, olive-green warblers with a yellow eye-stripe. In spring and early summer they are easy to tell apart by their calls- the Willow Warbler has a lovely long trill while the Chiffchaff is named after its two-note call. At this time of year, as they feed-up on insects, spiders and some berries, ready for their long migration back to Africa, you have to get a good view. It has taken me years to get a photo of Chiffchaffs but this pair were flitting up in a tree yesterday, and on a Cotoneaster bush, and you can see their distinguishing dark legs (The Willow Warbler has pale pink
ish legs). Conditions: Sun, cloud and a cool breeze. Temperature: Max 16 Min 7C.
Waking up each morning to the beautiful song of the Willow Warbler again, and having heard both this and the Chiffchaff singing on nearby Parkwood Springs I thought it was time to revisit these beautiful, elusive and similar-looking spring migrants. Chiffchaff arrive mid-March and Willow Warbler, migrating further, arrive in April. This difference in migration journeys also explains one of the visual differences, with Chiffchaffs having shorter wings and Willow Warblers, flying further, having longer primary feathers/wing length. Chiffchaff have dark legs while Willow Warblers have pale pinkish legs and a brighter eye-stripe. Since they are hard to see, the easiest way to tell them apart is by song- Chiffchaff singing a two note eponymous song, and Willow Warblers have a lovely long song ending with a downward trill. The BTO have a great little on-line video on telling them apart. (The photo’s of the Willow Warbler are from our garden, the Chiffchaff from Spurn).
Conditions: Milder with sun and showers. Temperature: Max 13 Min 4C.
Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers are hard to tell apart and both might be stopping off in your garden, like the Chiffchaff is in ours, filling up on their way south for winter migration. If you get the right view, you can see that Chiffchaff’s have dark legs, and, migrating shorter distances, have shorter wings. Willow Warblers have pale pinky-orange legs, are usually more yellow in overall colour, and have longer wings for longer migration. The photo’s should help! Conditions: Cloudy Temperature: Max 15- Min 11C.
Chiffchaff- A blue-tit-sized warbler, very active, flitting through small trees searching for insects among branches, and sometimes out to catch them mid-air. It’s Chiff-chaff call makes it easy to identify in spring, while singing, but less easy to distinguish from the slightly brighter Willow Warbler, once breeding is over. It has darker legs, and tends to feed higher in trees than the Willow Warbler. Most of ours migrate to the Mediterranean over winter but some, like these, migrate in from Scandinavia and increasingly stay over winter. Conditions: Mostly light cloud. Temperature: Max 12- Min 7C.
Changing nature: Too-early Bluebells (in numbers not just the odd one) serenaded by too-early Chiffchaff’s. This one a long way up in a big Ash tree, in this part of East Sussex where I’ve already started seeing Ash die-back, so soon this sight may not be so common. Now I’ve just had a message from a friend in mid-Wales (thanks Liz) who has just seen her first Swallow and Willow Warbler! Times are certainly changing. Conditions: After thunder and tremendous downfalls of rain last night, a calmer, cloudy day. Temperature: Max 12- Min 5c.