Those who keep an eye on happenings in the natural world and those who keep bird tables will have noticed that male Chaffinches have recently cast off their drab winter plumage and are now resplendent in their spring breeding finery.
Finches are a large and varied family of small to medium-sized, often colourful, perching songbirds. Most eat seeds as the main component of their diets, so they have stout conical bills specially adapted for splitting seeds open. Insects supplement their diets in summer when seeds are not plentiful.
The Chaffinch is the most common finch found in Ireland. It is a resident. In winter there is a large influx of foreign Chaffinches from colder regions of mainland Europe, but these annual visitors leave again in springtime and let the local residents get on with breeding.
A male Chaffinch in his fresh breeding plumage at this time of year is a handsome bird. His breast, face and underside are a pinkish orange-brown. His back is a darker, more rusty orange-brown colour. The back of his neck and the top of his head are bluish-grey.
One of the distinguishing features that identifies Chaffinches from other finches is their double wing-bars. He has two prominent, large white patches on his otherwise blackish wings. These double wing-bars are obvious when he is both perched and flying.
The outermost feathers of his longish, forked tail have white sides, but these are only obvious when the tail is fanned out during flight.
The Countryside Bird Survey organised by BirdWatch Ireland is a national project that monitors population trends of Ireland's common and widespread breeding birds like Chaffinches. The main aim of the survey is to record changes from year to year.
Survey results show that populations of our common and widespread birds are continually changing. Species such as Stonechat and Goldfinch have increased substantially over the past ten years, while others such as Kestrel and Skylark have been declining.
If you enjoy walking in the countryside and watching birds during springtime, you will enjoy participating in this survey. Anyone with a reasonable working knowledge of Ireland's common and widespread birds can take part. As many birds are detected first by sound it is also helpful to be able to identify birds by song and call.
Volunteers are always needed, so if you would like to get involved or if you have any queries please email Dick Coombes at email@example.com.