The Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) is a small, insectivorous leaf warbler in the family Phylloscopidae, which was established just recently in 2006 in consideration of the fact that the bird displays behaviour such as flicking its wings as it searches foliage for insects along the branches of trees and bushes. The genus name, Phylloscopus, is derived from ancient Greek phullon (leaf) and skopos (seeker). The term Chiffchaff is, in fact, onomatopoeic, and references the rather mechanical way in which the bird sings its two-note, metronomic “chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff.” Interestingly, other European languages have similar names for the Chiffchaff: Dutch use “Tjiftjaf”, Germans use “Zilpzalp” and Welsh say “siff-saff”.
Its colour is somewhat bland, being comprised of an olive-green plumage with hints of brown and buff underparts. Chiffchaffs are almost indistinguishable from Willow warblers (see comparison below), and there’s often confusion between these two birds. Being only about the same size as a Blue tit (approximately 11cm in length), it is certainly one of the smaller birds in the UK, and to some degree of similar behaviour to a tit; energetic, lively and quick, especially when among trees and shrubs. In fact, the Chiffchaff is famed for its distinctive, quick tail-wagging movements.