Chaffinches and Their Villages

 Hither, thither, through the sky, turtle-doves and linnets, fly! Blackbird, thrush, and chaffinch gay, hither, thither, haste away! One and all, come, help me quick! 

Jacob Grimm

This morning I watched two Chaffinches forage for seeds in my garden. I was fascinated by their presence there. Both were colourful and I think male, though I am no expert. It was a fascinating thing for me to watch, the symmetry and industriousness of them both, foraging away without a care in the world, and all in my garden.

I have the privilege of noticing these things as I have time to stare out of the window these days, normally I am dashing out the door. And me being me, I can’t help believing that everything is for a reason. Research tells me that Irish chaffinches are sedentary, with most breeding pairs returning to the same nest site year after year. So this lot have set up home in my garden. I have a Chaffinch village.

The Latin name of this bird, ‘coelebs’ is derived from the Latin for ‘bachelor‘ and these two are finely decked out. Chaffinches first breed when they are one year old and are mainly monogamous.  One of their greatest gifts to us is their song. To me and my Druid way of thinking they are the ‘teachtaire’ – messengers. Irish draoi (druids) were said to be able to prophesise the future from the movement of birds. I have no idea what these two batchelors are telling me, but something. 

The collective noun for Goldfinches: a Charm. How apt – the birds are vivacious, colourful and noisy, from the Latin ‘Camina’ meaning ‘song.’ When two smartly dressed batchelors come singing into your garden you have to take notice don’t you?

Legends abound about the colour of Chaffinches plumaging coming from the time one perched upon the cross to Calvary, where a Goldfinch plucked a thorn from the crown around his Christ’s head and some of his blood splashed onto the bird as it drew the thorn out. (A similar story is told about the Robin). Chaucer’s Cook is thus described: ‘…gaillard he was as a goldfynch in the shawe…’ – as merry as a goldfinch in the woods. You know when there are Christ legends and they make it into the Canterbury Tales that they are indeed special.

The one that fascinates me most though is the legend that surrounds Valentine’s Day. If the first bird a girl sees on that day is a Bluetit, she will live in poverty; a Blackbird foretells marrying a clergyman; a Robin tells of a sailor; and if she sees a Woodpecker she will be left an old maid. If the first bird she sees is a Goldfinch, however, she is promised a wealthy marriage… Hmm, curious.

In Ireland we believe that Chaffinches haunt the realms of The Other Crowd, and they will always be seen around the raths (Fairy Forts), ancient mounds and in thorn trees. Given that I live betwixt some Sidhe mounds that would make a lot of sense. As children we knew that if they perched on our windowsills it was a sign of treachery and singing was a sign of rain. For now they are doing what Chaffinches do and they are so welcome in my garden.

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