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Story last updated: 05 May 2004 1146 BST Printable version of this page
Listen to the birds for Babe
  May is the month for birdsong and to make the most of this, the BBC Bristol website, Radio Bristol and RSPB are running some special birdsong activities and events.

From 17 to 24 May you'll have the chance to vote for your favourite song - in aid of the Babe appeal for Children's Hospice South West.

Song thrushes are among the birds which sing outside of Spring

There will also be features on birdsong and a couple of 'birdsong for beginners' midweek walks.

To guide you through the month, we've put together some birdsong facts and information about what to listen out for…

>>> Listen to some examples of birdsong


Birdsong FAQs

When do birds sing?
Most birds sing during the breeding season, from February through until July but a few birds - like robins, wrens and dunnocks - sing throughout the year. Others, such as song thrushes, will have brief periods of song outside the main breeding season (December in the case of song thrushes).

Birds will sing throughout the day, and sometimes at night. The busiest period for song is around dawn, the least busy period from midday to early evening.

Blackcap
Crafty blackcaps are known to mimic other birds

I've heard a bird singing at night - is it a nightingale?
Nightingales are the best known birds to sing at night, but they are not the only ones. In fact, nightingales are quite rare - especially around Bristol - so the chances are that the bird you are listening to is either a robin or blackbird, singing beneath a street lamp.

Why do birds sing?
In spring male birds sing to advertise to other males that they are holding territory, warning them to keep away and, conversely, to advertise to females that they are fit, healthy and 'available'. Once paired, the song also appears to serve to keep the male and female together once they are paired.

Those birds that sing outside the breeding season, such as robins, do so because they hold winter feeding territories. Robins are particularly unusual in that females sing as well as males.

Do birds have favourite places to sing from?
Yes, birds use a series of 'song posts' from which they sing in turn throughout the breeding season. These mark the boundaries of their territories and are used by bird surveyors to work out the size and extent of bird populations in a given area of land.

What are the commonest bird songs to be heard around our streets and gardens?
Robins, blackbirds, song thrushes and wrens are all particularly vocal in spring. You will also hear dunnocks, great tits, starlings and blue tits commonly around your neighborhood.

How can I learn birdsong?
Firstly, learn the common songs, start with the birds mentioned in the previous FAQ. The best way is to spend time outside watching and listening - find a bird in song and stick with it while it sings.

Supplement this by listening to CDs and tapes of birdsong (you can get them from the RSPB or listen to a selection here on the website).

Remember though, it is difficult to learn song without 'field experience' - so don't expect to listen to a tape and go out and know birds from their song straight away.

Lastly, if possible, go out on walks with people who know their birdsong already - any experienced wildlife guide is likely to identify birds as much by sound as by sight.


MORE FROM THIS STORY
WATCH AND LISTEN
  Listen to some examples of birdsong
RELATED LINKS
  RSPB

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites
SEE ALSO ON BBCi
  BBC Nature - Birds

Birdsong events in Bristol, May 2004
Bristol Jamcams
Video Nation in Bristol

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