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A new Common Chaffinch subspecies in North Africa

A new subspecies of Common Chaffinch endemic to north-east Libya was described by Lars Svensson in a recent paper. Below are the summary and the main conclusion taken from the paper:

“A new subspecies of Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs in North Africa is described. It is restricted to northern Cyrenaica in north-east Libya. Differences from the other North African subspecies, F. c. africana and F. c. spodiogenys, are discussed, the main ones being that males invariably possess a prominent white patch on the central nape, a hint of a white post-ocular supercilium, a more yellowish tinge both above and below, stronger yellow fringes to the tertials and wing-coverts, and a less clean blue-grey head. Reasons for not recognising the subspecies F. c. koenigi are reconfirmed. There is some variation in size and in saturation of male plumage within the range of africana, making separation of koenigi untenable.

The following subspecies of Chaffinch in North Africa should be recognised, listed chronologically:

  • Fringilla coelebs spodiogenys Bonaparte, 1841. Type locality: Tunisia near Tunis and Sfax.
  • Fringilla coelebs africana Levaillant, 1850. Type locality: Algeria.
  • Fringilla coelebs harterti Svensson 2015. Type locality: near Al Marj, north Cyrenaica, Libya.

Given that africana is more closely related to coelebs than to spodiogenys, it would be interesting to know the position of harterti within a revised genetic tree”.

Breeding ranges of North African taxa of Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs). Map based on the literature cited and examination of specimens, and prepared by Magnus Ullman (Svensson 2015).


Svensson, L. 2015. A new North African subspecies of Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs. Bull. B.O.C. 135: 69–76.

Update (Dec 2017): the PDF is published online (added the link). The same for the article about the split of the Subalpine Warbler species complex by the same author.

Dorsal view of males of three subspecies of Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs, three of each. From left, F. c. africana, F. c. spodiogenys and F. c. harterti ssp. nov. Note in harterti the obvious white nuchal patch, less pure lead-grey crown and nape, slight brown tinge to mantle, and more limited grey on the scapulars. Note also overall paleness of F. c. spodiogenys. The third specimen from the right is the holotype of harterti. Of the slightly more variable F. c. africana, the three examples are all from spring (late March–late May) and represent, from left to right, the palest birds, from Batna, Algeria, an average dark bird, from western Morocco, and a small, dark bird from Tangier (‘koenigi’) (Lars Svensson / © American Museum of Natural History, New York).

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