Our guide to birdsong and bird spotting

After the long winter, migrating birds return from milder climates to spend the summer in the UK. Find out how you can spot and identify these feathered friends in your garden or on a walk, or learn how to help the birds where you are, whether you're in a town, city or the countryside. You can also discover how to identify different birdsong.

Birdsong can be a delightful sound to hear at dawn and dusk. The calls of song thrushes and house martins can be welcome sounds in places full of busy noises, and spotting a chiffchaff flitting about in a tree can make you stop and take notice of nature for a while.

As the days warm up, opening your window on an early morning can bring the freshness of the season into your home. When you take a moment to listen, you'll begin to notice different calls of birds enjoying the bluer skies with you. Birdsong is a sign that native species have returned to our gardens and streets, telling us that sunnier days are on their way.

Enjoy the chorus of birdsong wherever you may be, and share videos and photos with loved ones to connect others to what you hear. Though others may seem far away right now, hearing birdsong together can bring a sense of peace in turbulent times. Why not video call a loved one in your garden to experience this together?

Chaffinch at Castle Ward, Northern Ireland

Birdsong boosts wellbeing

Fling your windows open to hear the bird's chorus that's echoing all around. 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 quicker from stressful scenarios compared with the noise of urban living. The sound of birds can suggest a feeling of calm and safety wherever you hear them. Three-quarters of us feel more connected to nature when we hear birdsong, which is when the sounds bring back happy memories of childhood for many.

Bird spotting tips

Song thrush perched in a tree

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.

Skylark foraging in coastal grassland, Trevose Head, Cornwall

Skylark

The skylark is a brownish bird, and its song is simply beautiful. Larks soar from the ground and float upwards on helicopter wings singing a burbling, watery song all the while. Sometimes they go so high that you can barely see them, but the song carries nonetheless.

Greenfinch perching in a tree

Greenfinch

You might spot a Greenfinch on your bird feeder. Their call is a bit of an 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.

Want to know more about your favourite wildlife throughout the seasons? Make sure you check out Every Day Nature by Andy Beer, on sale from April 2020. 

We've been seeing a steady decline of the habitats that birds love to nest and sing in. If you want to make a promise to nature to help the birds where you are, scroll further down to find out how you can do this. 

How to recognise different birdsong

The sound of birdsong in our gardens and green spaces is always a source of delight. But how can you identify the different birds in a chorus of birdsong?

We've asked ornithologist and ecologist Pete Brash to guide you through a recording of birdsong. Pete has made a note of the time at which you can hear a different bird. Before you know it, you'll be picking out the call of the chaffinch, chiffchaff and their feathered friends.

Chaffinch at Castle Ward, Northern Ireland

Teach yourself how to recognise different birdsong

Listen to the dawn chorus wherever you are with this immersive recording of birdsong. You'll be able to hear robins, jenny wrens, song thrushes and more. Scroll down to learn what birds you're hearing at different points in the audio.

Robin

A robin sings first until about 1:20. Robins have a variable warbling, given in short phrases with longer gaps in between. The phrases can be quite piercing or sweet and syrupy.

Chaffinch

Next, there are two different species which seem to be competing, chaffinch and wren.

The chaffinch begins to sing at around 1:26, and it's the wren which carries on up to 1:30. It's a wren that kicks off proceedings at around 1:38 but again the chaffinch interrupts at 1:40.

The chaffinch is best heard in isolation from 1:49-1:51. The song starts out with a few slow, clear notes (chip, chip, chip) before speeding up and then finishing with a real flourish.

Chaffinch visiting a bird table in Northumberland
Chaffinch visiting a bird table at Wallington, Northumberland
Chaffinch visiting a bird table in Northumberland

Jenny wren

The wren has a very loud, excited and hurried song. They are capable of belting out over 700 notes per minute. It’s an incredibly loud song for such a tiny bird.

Blackbird

A blackbird can be heard giving its melodious and mellow song throughout the section from 1:20 to 2:10.

Blackbird on a fence in Norfolk
Blackbird on a fence at Sheringham Park, Norfolk
Blackbird on a fence in Norfolk

Chiffchaff and song thrush

Two birds with repetitive songs dominate the rest of the recording – the chiffchaff and song thrush.

The chiffchaff sings its name, so it's easy to recognise. Listen out particularly between 2:18 -2:20 and again at 2:26-2:29.

Songbird chorus

The song thrush has a varied song broken into clear sections of a note or phrase which is repeated four or five times. Listen out for these slightly different phrases repeated at 2:15, 2:24, 2:34, 2:47 and 2:52.

Other species you can hear include wood pigeon, carrion crow, blue tit, blackcap, mallard, pheasant, coot and great-crested grebe.

Our smallest bird, the goldcrest, can be distinctly heard giving its very thin song at 0:12 and again at 1:02.

Wood pigeon in Clwyd, Wales.
 Wood pigeon at Bodnant Garden, Clwyd, Wales
Wood pigeon in Clwyd, Wales.

Top tips for spotting birds

There are nearly 600 species of birds known in the UK, from resident garden birds to seasonal migratory visitors. We've pulled together some top tips that you can use for spotting our feathered friends outside your window or in your garden.

Practice makes perfect

If you’re confused between two species the best thing to do is to read about them and then seek each species out in its natural habitat. Once you've got a good description of the bird, and the more you experience a bird’s behaviour, the better you’ll be at spotting it in the future. 

Understanding the structure of birds’ bodies and the terms used, particularly for different groups of feathers, is useful knowledge to have to hand in the field, especially when referring to identification guides. 

Listen out

Another way to identify different species is through their songs and, surprisingly, they are relatively easy to learn.

You’ll already recognise blackbird, blue tit, chiffchaff and robin calls without even realising it. The RSPB eGuide to British Birds app is a really helpful tool for checking birdsong you hear when you’re out spotting.

Bird-friendly gardens

Some of the easiest bird species to spot are our native garden birds, and you can improve your chances by creating a welcoming habitat for them. A garden full of native shrubs, flowers and grasses and free of excessive fertilizer and pesticide will be much more inviting for birds and may tempt in some unusual ones. Plants such as rowan, wild cherry and elder are particularly good – birds will love their berries and the insects they attract.

It’s not a good idea to feed wild birds bread in your garden – it’s not good for them and you’ll be more likely to attract crows instead.

If you do feed birds peanuts, crush them up first as young birds can choke on full-sized nuts. Overall the best approach is to feed birds foods that would naturally be growing at that time of year – seeds in the summer, nuts in the autumn.

It’s now more important than ever to play our part, big or small, in keeping these homes as healthy havens for wildlife like birds. We've seen a decline in these habitats in recent years. 

There are lots of things you can do at home and in local community spaces to help wildlife to thrive. You could try building your own DIY bug, bee or bird house. Why not get the whole family involved in making homemade seed balls to feed the birds?

How to help the birds where you are

The Diner Bird Feeder hanging outside, full with food and a blue tit sat on the top

For the love of nature 

Encourage your feathered friends, nature neighbours and wandering mini-beasts to make a pit stop in your garden. No matter how big or small your outdoor space is, enjoy spending time watching nature buzz by. Explore our unique selection of habitats, feeders, bird baths and more, including our new range made for the love of nature in collaboration with leading wildlife specialists CJ Wildlife.

Every Day Nature by Andy Beer in a bed of daisies

Every Day Nature 

With witty and lyrical text and beautiful illustrations, be inspired with this nature book that appreciates the natural world. For every day of the year discover the 366 natural wonders that can be found within a mile of your front door. It’s incredible what natural treasures can be found when you start looking. Available in April.