A beginner’s guide to identifying birdsong this Spring
As the dawn chorus gathers momentum, we present Lucy 'Lapwing' Hodson’s guide to identifying some of Britain’s most common songbirds.
"I am a bird lover and all-round nature nerd. I started learning to identify birdsong when I was 22, with the help of volunteers at the RSPB. For me, the best thing about learning to recognise birds by their song, is that you don’t need to see the bird to know what it is. I hope that this guide will help you start learning about the birds in your area." – Lucy Hodson
This common and confident songster often performs from a high perch, so the sound can travel further. Listen for a deep, melancholy tone and whistle, like your grandad whistling to himself while pottering in the garden. The blackbird sings, then pauses, then sings again. A heavenly sign of spring.
One of our most familiar birds, the robin’s song is sweet and cheery. Much higher pitched than the blackbird, the robin will sing a phrase, then pause, then sing again. That song can vary in length and style, but there are always pauses in-between phrases. Robins are extremely bold and will sing their melodious whistle almost year-round.
A tiny bird with a big voice. What the wren lacks in size, it makes up for in volume. Listen for a high pitched burst of song, with a rattle in the middle. The wren song is flurried and urgent, like a tiny drill. Wrens have the loudest song of any bird in Britain for their size. If one is singing nearby, the sound is unmistakeable.
A familiar sound to many of us, the song of the wood pigeon is slow and rhythmic. The five syllable song can sound like the bird is singing its own name. Listen for the "wood pigeon, pigeon" coo of this self-confident performer.
It is easy to confuse the song thrush with other birds, because it has such a varied voice. Listen for a phrase that is repeated two, three or four times, and then replaced by a new pattern. A song thrush really does sing a lot, and likes to remix other birdsongs.
If you have starlings in your area, you are bound to notice these boisterous, iridescent songsters. Starlings weave all sorts of noises into their song, with clicks, rattles, whistles, warbles and scratches. In urban areas, starlings have been known to imitate car alarms, mobile phones and even engines.
The great tit can be easy to identify, but also really tricky. Typically, their song is a simple, two syllable bounce, like a squeaky wheel. Other times, the great tit will make all sorts of weird and wonderful noises. Imagine the bird singing "teacher, teacher" over and over again.
Spring is the perfect time of year to hear a chiffchaff. Listen for a simple, two syllable song with an even rhythm. Imagine the bird is singing its name, "chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff", as if keeping time with a clock.
If you catch the sound of a willow warbler you will be rewarded with one of the most beautiful birdsongs in Britain. Listen for a smooth, flowing sound which starts on a high note and travels down the scale. Like a waterfall, the willow warbler’s trill has a beautiful flow.
The chaffinch song matches their cheeky character perfectly. Listen for a descending scale, but one that is rougher than the willow warbler. Their song is easy to recognise by the distinct "scratch" sound at the end of the phrase. It's almost as if the chaffinch is blowing us a raspberry.