The chiffchaff is a small woodland bird that can be heard calling on sunny wintry days. Its song is a repetitive chiff-chaff hence its English, German (zilpzalp), Dutch (tjiftjaf) and Welsh (siff-saff) name.
The bird breeds in northern and temperate Europe and migrates to southern Europe, North Africa and southern Asia in winter. It is estimated that between 60 and 120 million such birds live in Europe.In Malta, it is known as vjolin tax-xitwa, probably due to its call as well.
The chiffchaff visits Malta during migration and many stop here for winter. Although it is present here from autumn, it is only when the temperature starts falling in late December and early January that it increases in number.
It is usually seen in wooded areas, in valleys and in large gardens. Most of the time the bird can be seen flying from one branch to the other picking up insects, as its food consists mainly of small flies.
The chiffchaff is one of several small green warblers known as leaf warblers. Several species visit our islands. The most common are the wood warbler, known in Maltese as vjolin ħadrani, and the willow warbler, known locally as vjolin pastard. These species can be difficult to tell apart without hearing their song. It was only in 1789 that an English naturalist showed how to identify these three birds through their song.
Two other species of leaf warblers that visit the islands are the western and eastern Bonelli’s warblers, known in Maltese as vjolin bajdani and vjolin tal-Lvant respectively. This article was published in The Times on 09.01.13