BBRC have recently completed detailed assessments of several claims of African Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs africana/ spodiogenys. So far, claims of six different individuals have been assessed, including the first, well publicised bird, in Essex in 1994

All of the birds assessed so far have certainly shown features which are strongly reminiscent of male African Chaffinches and have appeared markedly different from normal European Chaffinches (F. c. coelebs etc…). For example, the claimed birds have shared a tendency to show a green or greenish (rather than a rich warm brown) mantle tones, pale pink underparts and an extensive blue-grey ‘hood’ (rather than a blue-grey crown and nape contrasting with rich pink ‘cheeks’). However, despite such striking superficial similarities to North African birds, several other features have conspired to make the claimed birds differ significantly from typical North African Chaffinches.

In fact, there seem to be some common threads running through the claims which amount to a pattern of recurring anomalies. Some particular problems found in the claimed birds include: a tendency to show an extensive grey wash on the breast (not found in African birds); unusually pale and colourless underparts, or underparts in which the pink colouration is either slightly wrong (too orangey) or unusually restricted; pink tones on the ear coverts or malar area (where africana/ spodiogenys is normally uniformly blue-grey); and rather dull green or brownish-green mantle tones (cleaner, brighter green in africana/ spodiogenys).

Extensive studies of skins at BMNH (Tring) by Alan Knox (for BOURC) and Brian Small (for BBRC) have confirmed that no specimens of africana/ spodiogenys there match the appearance of the various British claims in certain key particulars. At the request of Alan Knox, Christian Erard examined specimens held in Paris and confirmed that none there showed the extensive grey breast markings of the Essex individual and some subsequent claims. Consequently none of the birds assessed so far have been accepted as African Chaffinches.

Nevertheless, the striking appearance of these birds must be acknowledged, as must the fact that in several respects, including some features not mentioned above, they do actually look much closer to North African than European birds. A paper is in preparation which will discuss the identification and assessment of these interesting birds in more detail and consider possible reasons for their unusual appearance. With this in mind we therefore request that any previously unpublished or unsubmitted images of African-like Chaffinches in Britain are made available for reference and possible inclusion in the paper. In addition high quality images of African Chaffinches taken in North Africa are also required. Anyone providing such images will be fully acknowledged and a small payment will be made for any which are published. Informed comment on the possible causes of plumage aberrations which would might cause European birds to resemble North American forms are also welcomed

This is a list of African Chaffinches claims assessed so far:
Essex, Fingringhoe 9-25 April 1994, also present in January 1995
Scilly, St Mary’s 12 April 1994
Cumbria, Penrith 12 February 1998
Cumbria, Kendall 1-5 March 1998
Shetland, Fair Isle 15 April to 1 May 1998
Cumbria, Wigton 27-28 April 1998
One further claim is awaiting assessment