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Found mainly in Spain and Portugal, with a small population in adjacent south-western France. Has bred once in Gwent, south Wales, in 2015 (Brit. Birds 109: 605, 2016); several other records of territorial summering males in Britain.
A small population occurs in the north of Morocco especially in the eastern Rif montains areas. Unfortunatly no scientific studies have been carried out to evaluate the status of the Moroccan population.
Breeds mainly in hilly areas in Mediterranean scrub with Kermes Oak Quercus coccifera and Portugese Oak Q. faginea and in open forest of mixed oaks and Sweet Chestnut Castanea sativa with a healthy layer of Cistus scrub. Above the tree line, it is found in mixed scrub and open heath. Thought also to breed at lower levels in riverine woodland with willow. Winters also in Mediterranean coastal maquis, tamarisk stands, acacias and sparse woodland.
In the Algarve breeding areas are found primarily inland, nearly always on shale substrate of the Serras and is practically absent on the more coastal limestone Barrocal, where oaks (except Kermes Oak Quercus coccifera) are very localised. Iberian Chiffchaffs are a woodland bird, favouring areas with at least a small representation of Cork Oak Quercus suber and often in pure Cork Oak forest and woodland. It is particularly common along valley bottoms in these areas along woodland galleries consisting of Cork Oak, Willows (Salix atrocinerea, S. australis), White Poplar Populus alba and sometimes Alder Alnus glutinosa.
These habitats often include other native trees/shrubs like Phillyrea angustifolia, Strawberry-tree Arbutus unedo, Viburnum tinus and others. Areas of Cork Oak with Maritime Pine Pinus pinaster and Stone Pine Pinus pinea are freely used as are areas affected with Eucalyptus plantations, although on edges where Cork Oaks are nearby. Iberian Chiffchaff is much less liberal in it's choice of breeding habitat than Common Chiffchaff and is fact quite a habitat specialist.
In the Algarve it doesnâ€™t breed in gardens, town parks, tourist development gardens, golf courses or in coastal agricultural areas, orchards etc. In these areas it is found mainly on autumn passage (July) August-September (October) with spring migrants being much less numerous. Interestingly, a little north of the Algarve in the Baixo Alentejo it doesnâ€™t seem to breed at all in the vast open Cork Oak and Holm Oak woodlands, which are rich in birdlife. In that region it occurs mainly and often commonly in the cooler Atlantic western woodlands with dense understory.
In the Alcornocales in the far south of Spain, they seem to like sheltered canutos and the surrounding open oak woodland.
Migratory. Non-breeding range not fully known. Majority thought to migrate to tropical West Africa, where they have been recorded in winter in Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana. A passage migrant through Morocco from late February to mid-April. Member's records confirm movement in mid February in Morocco and Western Sahara and one near Marseille, France in mid-March.
Many are trapped on spring and autumn passages in Mauritania. More widely recorded in non-breeding season throughout northwest Africa (mainly Tunisia), but the exact number is uncertain due to confusion with wintering Common Chiffchaff. Uncertainty is caused by wintering Common Chiffchaff and a lack of winter specimens from the Iberian peninsula. Vagrant to Britain, Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden.
Contact call a whistled "piu" or "pew" with downward inflection, similar in tone to contact call of Eurasian Bullfinch, in autumn has short, shrill "peep", "seep" or "weep", like that of subspecies abietinus and tristis of Common Chiffchaff. Song a hesitant repetition of rising and falling notes, slower than that of similar species Common Chiffchaff, "chi chi chi tchui tchui tchui tchu tchu tchu", with descending tones of triplets and usually given at an inreasingly faster pace.
Breeding birds may give an additional dry "chep" or "jep" at the start. Some in the north of it's range (Pyrenees) give "mixed" songs incorporating segments of Common Chiffchaff song, but usually still closer to normal song for the species. High percentage of males react to songs of Common Chiffchaff (but not reciprocated) and Canary Islands Chiffchaff. Females largely ignore the song of the Common Chiffchaff, whereas females of latter species react strongly to songs of males of their Iberian cousins.