Our guide to identifying birdsong
Stepping out into nature and listening to birdsong can be a powerfully restorative experience. And with over 600 known bird species in the UK, their calls are a useful extra clue to use when bird spotting. Find out how you can use birdsong to identify the birds around you, next time you’re in your garden or on a walk.
The power of birdsong
A psychological study has found that natural sounds have restorative qualities. The calls of birds and other sounds of nature can help people recover much more quickly from stressful situations, compared with the noise of urban living.
Birdsong is also a great way to identify different species, along with visual cues. With a bit of practice, you’ll find they’re easy to learn. You may already recognise blackbird, blue tit, chiffchaff and robin calls without realising it.
Birdsong to listen out for
The RSPB’s eGuide to British Birds app is a helpful tool for checking birdsong you hear when you’re out spotting. Here are some distinctive songs to get you started:
The chiffchaff sings its name, so it’s one of the easier songs to recognise.
- You might spot a greenfinch on your bird feeder. Their call has a slightly odd wheezy note, like a gate that needs oiling. The bright green males show off with extravagant, looping song flights, showing off in search of a mate, flashing the bright yellow stripe on their wings.
Robins have a variable warbling, given in short phrases with longer gaps in between. The phrases can be quite piercing.
- Song thrush
- The song thrush perches in the treetops to sing its heart out in a pattern of identical, repeated phrases. If you see a bird with a spotted breast and pale brown back, it’s sure to be a song thrush.
The skylark is a brownish bird with a beautiful song. Larks soar from the ground and float upwards on helicopter wings singing a burbling, watery song. Sometimes they go so high that you can barely see them, but the song carries nonetheless.
Putting everything into practice
Immersing yourself in a chorus of birdsong at dawn or dusk is a wonderful way to get closer to nature. But how do you identify the different birds in the chorus? With practice, you can tune your ears to their distinctive calls.
Spring dawn chorus
Listen to this recording of the dawn chorus in spring and see if you can hear the distinct songs of the crow, blackbird, robin and song thrush.
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