When I think of Chaffinches, I immediately think of picnic tables. As a child it seemed wherever we went on holiday there would always be Chaffinches around, often sitting on the end of picnic tables waiting for scraps, or waiting outside the tent at breakfast time. They knew humans, and they were bold about it.
So I grew up thinking of them very narrowly as quite a tame bird. Yet in more recent years I’ve seen less and less of this behaviour. Maybe I’m just not going to the same sort of places any more, but it seems the Chaffinches these days a little bit flightier.
They are a beautiful little bird though, with the male more showy both in looks and song. In fact, the word ‘finch’ that covers the whole family is thought to derive from the sound of the Chaffinch’s call ‘vink’. In parts of Europe, specifically Flemish regions of Holland and Belgium, this is seen in the ‘Vinkensport’ in which Chaffinch males are set to call ‘competitively’ with the winner being the one that makes the most calls in a set time. Despite opposition from animal rights groups, Vinkensetting still takes place today and a good Chaffinch is seen in the same way as a good racing pigeon.
Personally I don’t like seeing this sort of bird caged, and centuries of tradition is no good reason to do anything. But it’s difficult to take this position from the UK while we enshrine far worse treatment of wildlife with the same justification.
I hardly ever see Chaffinches here in the garden, and when I do it tends to be the odd single female. But in car parks of nature reserves they always tend to be there. Probably avoiding the vinkeniers while searching out picnic baskets!