The chaffinch was described by the Swedish naturalist
Carl Linnaeus in 1758 in the
10th edition of his
Systema Naturae under its current
 Fringilla is the Latin word for a finch, while caelebs means unmarried or single. Linnaeus remarked that during the Swedish winter, only the female birds migrated south through Belgium to Italy.
The English name comes from the
Old English ceaffinc, where ceaf is "
chaff" and finc "
 The chaffinch is one of the many birds depicted in the marginal decoration of the 15th century English illuminated manuscript the
 The English naturalist
William Turner described the chaffinch in his book on birds published in 1544. Although the text is in Latin, Turner gives the English name as chaffinche and lists two folk names: sheld-appel and spink.
 The word sheld is a dialectal word meaning pied or multicoloured (as in
 Appel may be related to Alp, an obsolete word for a bullfinch.
 The name spink is probably derived from the bird's call note. The names spink and shell apple are among the many folk names listed for the chaffinch by Reverend Charles Swainson in his Provincial Names and Folk Lore of British Birds (1885).
Fringillidae are all seed-eaters with stout conical bills. They have similar skull morphologies, nine large
primaries, 12 tail feathers and no
crop. In all species, the female builds the nest, incubates the eggs, and broods the young. Finches are divided into two subfamilies, the
Carduelinae, containing around 28
genera with 141
species and the
Fringillinae containing a single genus,
Fringilla, with three species: the chaffinch (F. coelebs), the
Tenerife blue chaffinch (F. teydea), and the
brambling (F. montifringilla). Fringilline finches raise their young almost entirely on
arthropods, while the cardueline finches raise their young on regurgitated seeds.
A number of
subspecies of the chaffinches have been described based principally on the differences in the pattern and colour of the adult male plumage. Subspecies can be divided into three groups: the "coelebs group" that occurs in Europe and Asia, the "spondiogenys group" in North Africa, and the "canariensis group" on the
 The subspecies from
Madeira and the
Azores are placed either in the "canariensis group" or in the "spondiogenys group".
 Genetic studies indicate that members of the "coelebs group" and the "spondiogenys group" are more closely related to each other than they are to members of the "canariensis group".
Within the "spondiogenys group", the gradual
clinal variation over the large geographic range and the extensive
intergradation means that the geographical limits and acceptance of the various subspecies varies between authorities. The
International Ornithologists' Union lists 11 subspecies from this group,
 whereas Peter Clement in the
Handbook of Birds of the World lists seven and considers the features of the subspecies balearica (
Mallorca), caucasica (southern
Caucasus), schiebeli (southern Greece,
Crete and western Turkey), and tyrrhenica (
Corsica) to fall within the variation of the
nominate subspecies. He also suggests that the subspecies alexandrovi, sarda, solomkoi, and syriaca may represent variations of the nominate subspecies.
The authors of a 2009
molecular phylogenetic study on the three subspecies that are currently recognised on the Canary Islands concluded that they are sufficiently distinct in both
phenotype to be considered as separate species within the Fringilla genus. They also proposed a revised distribution of subspecies on the islands in which the birds on
La Palma (palmae) and
El Hierro (ombrioso) are grouped together as a single subspecies while the current canariensis subspecies is split into two with one subspecies occurring only on
Gran Canaria and the other on
La Gomera and
- coelebs group
- F. c. alexandrovi
Zarudny, 1916 – northern Iran
- F. c. caucasica Serebrovski, 1925 – Balkans and northern Greece to northern Turkey, central and eastern
Caucasus and northwestern Iran
- F. c. coelebs
Linnaeus, 1758 (
nominate subspecies) – Eurasia, from
western Europe and
Asia Minor to
- F. c. balearica von Jordans, 1923 –
Iberian Peninsula and the
- F. c. gengleri
O. Kleinschmidt, 1909 – British Isles
- F. c. sarda Rapine, 1925 –
- F. c. schiebeli
Erwin Stresemann, 1925 – southern Greece,
Crete and western Turkey
- F. c. solomkoi
Sushkin, 1913 –
Crimean Peninsula and southwestern Caucasus
- F. c. syriaca J. M. Harrisson, 1945 –
Cyprus, southeastern Turkey to northern Iran and Jordan
- F. c. transcaspia
Zarudny, 1916 – northeastern Iran and southwestern Turkmenistan
- F. c. tyrrhenica Schiebel, 1910 –
- spondiogenys group
- F. c. africana
J. Levaillant, 1850 – Morocco to northwestern Tunisia, northeastern Libya
- F. c. spodiogenys
Bonaparte, 1841 – Eastern Tunisia and northwestern Libya: Atlas chaffinch
- canariensis group