(eastern) Chiffchaff - (oostelijke) Tjiftjaf

(eastern) Chiffchaff

(oostelijke) Tjiftjaf

Phylloscopus collybita abietinus/tristis

Pictures: Teus Luijendijk


12 November 2003, van der Berghstichting, Noordwijk aan Zee ZH


12 November 2003, van der Berghstichting, Noordwijk aan Zee ZH

Eastern Chiffchaffs turn up every autumn in Western Europe. The subspecific identification, however, is never an easy task. Quite often, a very cold grey Chiffchaff that is discovered, is called a Siberian Chiffchaff P. c. tristis, but this is by no means as easy as it may look. Many eastern Chiffchaffs may show a very grey plumage, seemingly lacking all yellow tones.
A true tristis, however, will draw attention to its presence by a very monotonous, drawn-out and somewhat plaintive call that can be transcribed as heeee. In a sonogram, this will show as a more or less horizontal bar of approximately ¼ second in length. The difference of this from a call, claimed by several researchers to be more typical of abietinus, can be surprisingly difficult to hear, but it shows well on the sonogram!
The matter may, however, be more complicated. Young Chiffchaffs of all subspecies utter calls that are quite different when compared to the adult's contact calls. So whether the so-called typical abietinus  call is made by juveniles only or by adults as well, remains to be proven.

The birds shown here (at first there was one, but it appeared there were two birds present) matched the plumage requirements for tristis  Chiffchaffs: somewhat kaki greyish upperparts without any obvious yellow tones (especially on the rump), a pale wingbar and edgings to the secondaries, a small contrasting yellow 'wrist patch' formed by the underwing primary coverts, off-white underparts with smudgy breast sides and buffish flanks (extending on to the ventral region) and white undertail coverts. Something, however, was wrong: the sonogram. It didn't quite match the pattern that was supposed to be characteristic for tristis (as e.g., shown on the cd 'Calls of Eastern Vagrants' by Hannu Jännes), but the call didn't really match that of abietinus  from that cd either; it was more or less something in the middle of both. Perhaps these birds originated from an overlap region of the two subspecies? Or were the calls the identification was judged upon, the rather different juvenile calls? And if so, could they then still indicate the birds' identity as tristis ?
Questions to which the answers still have to be found....

  eastern Chiffchaff  -  oostelijke Tjiftjaf  Phylloscopus collybita abietinus/tristis ; videograbs (20x).
  van der Berghstichting, Noordwijk aan Zee ZH, 12 November 2003.


Below, I have added some sonograms of the calls made by these birds. For comparison, I included sonograms of calls made by a singing tristis  Chiffchaff in Schiedam ZH on April 1995, a presumed tristis  bird from Huizen, the Netherlands, a tristis  bird from India, and an abietinus  bird from Finland. As can be seen from the pictures, the true tristis  calls are generally very 'flat' horizontal shapes. This is in contrast to the sonogram results for the Noordwijk birds, that are shaped more like an inverted 'V', resembling the call from the abietinus  bird.
For more information on how to 'read' sonograms click here.

(1) This sonogram represents the call made by the birds depicted above. On the recordings I made I found only little variance in the sonogram patterns. Duration is approx. 0.150 sec.

(2) This sonogram was made from a call made by a singing spring bird in Schiedam ZH, The Netherlands, that was accepted as a tristis  Chiffchaff. The first part is the call, the subsequent part is start of the song. Duration of the call is approx. 0.200 sec.

(3) Another call from the previous bird, now somewhat shorter. Duration is approx. 0.170 sec.

(4) A call made by a December bird in Rajasthan, India, the winter area of tristis (Hannu Jännes, reproduced with permission from the cd 'Calls of Eastern Vagrants'). Duration is approx. 0.250 sec.


Recording example of calls (1), (3) and (4).

(5) Calls made by a presumed tristis  bird recorded in Huizen NH, The Netherlands in 1997 (Ruud van Beusekom). Duration of the calls is around 0.200 sec., with some calls 0.225 sec., but some as short as 1.65 sec.

(6) A call made by an October abietinus  bird in Finland (Hannu Jännes, reproduced with permission from the cd 'Calls of Eastern Vagrants'). Duration is approx. 0.210 sec.

(7) A call from another presumed tristis  bird (that was again very much OK for tristis  as far as plumage was concerned), recorded in Kennemerduinen NH, The Netherlands in October 2001 (Magnus Robb). Duration of the call is 0.170 sec.
The recorder wrote: "I hoped to record similar calls during my India trip a few months later. However, I heard and recorded only 'classical' calls".
This recording can be heard on the Dutch Birding website, or click here.

(8) Calls made by an August nominate bird (probably a juvenile), recorded by me in The Netherlands. Quite different when compared with the normal hweet  call usually heard from adults. Duration is 0.170 to 0.200 sec.


Recording example of calls (6) and (8).


Copyright ©Teus Luijendijk 2003