Blue chaffinch (Fringilla teydea)
|Size||Length: 16 - 17 cm (2)|
Male wing length: 9.6 - 10.7 cm (3)
Female wing length: 8.9 - 9.7 cm (3)
The blue chaffinch is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).
The blue chaffinch (Fringilla teydea) is a rather large, robust species with relatively long legs (3). The adult male is a pretty slate-blue colour over most of its body (2) (3), although its chin, throat and wingbars are paler (2) (3). Its wings are black (2), and it has white undertail-coverts (3). The light blue bill is stout at the base (3), and the pointy tip is black during the breeding season (2) (3).
Both the male and the female blue chaffinch have a thin whitish eye-ring which breaks in front of the eye (3). The legs and feet are slate-grey tinged with pink in the male, and a deep pinkish-brown in the female (3).
The female blue chaffinch has the same plumage pattern as the male (2), but is quite different in colour, with brown or dull olive-brown upperparts, pale grey underparts and pale buff wingbars (3). The bill of the female is grey-brown with a pale pinkish tinge to the base of the lower mandible (3). Juveniles of this species look very similar to the female, although they are generally slightly darker (3).
The subspecies of blue chaffinch from Gran Canaria is up to ten percent smaller than the nominate subspecies from Tenerife (4), with a slightly smaller bill and duller plumage (3) (4).
The song of the blue chaffinch consists of a descending series of two or three repeated notes (2) (3) (5). It has been described as being similar to the chaffinch’s (3), although it is slower (3) (5), shorter and weaker (6). Whereas the chaffinch finishes its song with a flourish, the blue chaffinch ends with several harsh notes (3) (5), described as a ‘churr’ or ‘buzz’ (7).
The call of the blue chaffinch is a ‘chirp’, which is sometimes repeated as a double note. It can also be a quite slurred ‘che-wir’ or ‘sdderrer’. The Gran Canaria subspecies has been reported to have a softer, low ‘twee’ note (3). In flight, the blue chaffinch gives a fairly croaky (6), sharp ‘sipp’ call (3).
The blue chaffinch is endemic to the western Canary Islands, Spain (2) (3). Two subspecies of blue chaffinch occur: Fringilla teydea teydea on Tenerife and Fringilla teydea polatzeki on Gran Canaria (2) (4). The majority of birds of this species are found on Tenerife, with only approximately 250 individuals occupying a tiny range on Gran Canaria (2).
The blue chaffinch is mainly found in Canary pine (Pinus canariensis) woodland (2) (3) (4). During the breeding season the blue chaffinch occurs at elevations of between 1,000 and 2,000 metres above sea level, in pinewoods with a high proportion of broom (Chamaecytisus proliferus) in the understorey (2) (4). Outside of the breeding season, the blue chaffinch has been known to occur from 300 to 2,300 metres above sea level (2).
This species is found in high densities in areas of rich undergrowth, but also where little ground cover is present. It has also been recorded in tree-heaths and in laurels within pine forest (3).
On Tenerife, the wooded habitat of the blue chaffinch occurs in a belt around the whole island between 1,000 and 2,000 metres above sea level, whereas on Gran Canaria, this species is restricted to just a few woods, mainly the pinewoods of Ojeda, Inagua and Pajonales (4).
The blue chaffinch pairs with a mate in April, with breeding lasting until the end of July or early August (2) (4). The female is in charge of building the nest, which is usually located in pine trees and occasionally within heath (Erica arborea) or laurel (Laurus azorica). The nest is made of pine needles and branches of broom, and is lined with feathers, moss, grasses and even rabbit hair (4).
The female blue chaffinch generally lays two eggs (2) (4), although the timing of egg-laying is different on each of the two islands. On Tenerife, the eggs are laid during the first two weeks in June, whereas on Gran Canaria the eggs are laid in the second half of April and the first half of June (4). The female incubates the clutch for between 14 and 16 days, before the blind, downy chicks hatch (4). Both the male and the female blue chaffinch feed the chicks, which remain in the nest for 17 or 18 days (4).
The blue chaffinch feeds primarily on Canary pine seeds (3) (4) (6), but it will occasionally feed on fruit (4) and flower seeds (3). The thick, powerful bill is used to break open cones in order to extract the seeds (4). Insects are often plucked from cracks in the pine bark and eaten (3) (4), particularly during the breeding season as this provides a rich source of protein for the chicks (4) (6). Chicks are mainly fed on caterpillars (3), while butterflies, moths and some beetles appear to be the preferred choice for the adults (3) (4). The blue chaffinch feeds both on the ground (3) (4) and in trees (4).
This species gathers together in family groups at the end of the breeding season to form small foraging flocks (3). Seasonal movements have not been reported for the blue chaffinch, although it has been known to move to lower elevations in the winter during harsh conditions. The blue chaffinch travels great distances in search of water, particularly in the summer (3).
One of the principal threats to the blue chaffinch is habitat loss and fragmentation as a result of intense commercial exploitation of pinewood forests in the past (2) (4). This has led to the isolation of populations, particularly on Gran Canaria (2). Forest fires have also been the cause of pinewood destruction (2) (4), and a major fire in 2007 destroyed significant areas of important blue chaffinch habitat on Gran Canaria (2).
The fact that the population size of the subspecies on Gran Canaria is so small means that random population fluctuations could lead to inbreeding or even extinction (2) (4).
Due to the relatively small size of Gran Canaria, protected areas are heavily used for recreational purposes, which may potentially cause disturbance to the blue chaffinch (2) (4).
The blue chaffinch is still kept as a cage-bird on Tenerife and is also illegally caught and exported to other European countries including Italy, Belgium and Germany (2) (4).
Predation, either by native species or feral cats, is not thought to be a major threat to the blue chaffinch, although some species including the long-eared owl (Asio otus), great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) and raven (Corvus corax) have been known to feed on it (4).
A further threat to the blue chaffinch is thought to be the natural lack of water available in the summer (4).
The blue chaffinch is listed in Annex I of the EU Wild Birds Directive (8) and it is also listed in Appendix II of the Bern Convention, which means that the blue chaffinch and its habitat should be strictly protected (9).
Since 1982, key areas for the blue chaffinch on Gran Canaria have been protected. In 1987, El Teide forest on Tenerife and six important areas on Gran Canaria were designated as Natural Parks or Natural Areas (2) (4).
In 1991, a conservation programme was initiated for the blue chaffinch which involved a variety of research studies and the implementation of both in-situ and ex-situ conservation and management measures (2) (4). This was followed by a captive breeding programme in 1992, an effort which was renewed in 2005 (2).
Current conservation actions include the implementation of fire prevention measures, especially during the summer, and the limitation of human access to suitable blue chaffinch habitat on Gran Canaria (2). An ongoing project on Gran Canaria is focusing on the restoration of fire-damaged pine forest, and research into the potential threat posed by inbreeding in the population is also being conducted on the island. Cats have been controlled on Gran Canaria since 1996, and now measures are being taken against alien species on Tenerife (2).
The Canary pine woodland habitat of the blue chaffinch is listed in Annex I of the EU Habitats Directive, which means that it has been identified as an area of conservation concern (10).
Although the global population of the blue chaffinch appears to be showing a positive trend, the Gran Canaria subspecies is still in decline (3) and continues to require intensive conservation efforts (2).
Further proposed conservation actions for the blue chaffinch include expanding the monitoring and research efforts, producing an official governmental action plan, including this species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), protecting drinking sites for the birds and managing forests (2).
More information on the blue chaffinch:
BirdLife International - Blue chaffinch:
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- Coverts: small feathers concealing the bases of larger flight feathers, usually on the wings or tail.
- Endemic: a species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- Ex-situ: measures to conserve a species that occur outside of the natural range or habitat of the species. For example, in zoos or botanical gardens.
- Feral: previously domesticated animals that have returned to a wild state.
- Inbreeding: the breeding of closely related individuals. An inbred population usually has less genetic variability and this is generally disadvantageous for its long-term survival and success.
- Incubate: to keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- In-situ: measures to conserve a species inside its natural range or habitat.
- Mandible: in birds, the lower jaw and beak, but the term is also used to denote the two parts of the beak.
- Nominate subspecies: when a species is divided into subspecies, the originally described population is classified as the nominate subspecies. Indicated by the repetition of the species name; for example, Cyclura nubila nubila is the nominate subspecies of the Cayman Islands ground iguana, Cyclura nubila.
- Subspecies: a population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
IUCN Red List (October, 2011)
BirdLife International (October, 2011)
- Clement, P. (2011) Finches and Sparrows. A&C Black, London.
González, C. (1995) Action Plan for the Blue Chaffinch (Fringilla teydea). SEO/BirdLife and BirdLife International for the European Commission, Tenerife, Spain. Available at:
- MacKay, B.K. (2001) Bird Sounds: How and Why Birds Sing, Call, Chatter, and Screech. Stackpole Books, Pennsylvania.
- MobileReference (2008) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of European Birds: An Essential Guide To Birds Of Europe. MobileReference, Boston.
- Bell, P.R. (1959) Darwin’s Biological Work: Some Aspects Reconsidered. CUP Archive, Cambridge.
EU Birds Directive (October, 2011)
Council of Europe: Bern Convention (October, 2011)
EU Habitats Directive (October, 2011)