Identifying birdsong

Posted: Thursday 24 February 2011
by Kate Bradbury

A friend of mine is being kept awake at night by a 'bird'. It starts singing at about 4.30am and continues until he gets up.

A robin singingA friend of mine is being kept awake at night by a 'bird'. It starts singing at about 4.30am and continues until he gets up. My friend is quite vexed by this bird and would rather it didn't exist. He doesn't know its identity, but it's likely to be a robin or a blackbird - both may sing at night and have similar songs.

I'm reasonably good at identifying birdsong - I can tell a robin apart from a blackbird, a blue tit from a great tit, and identify more distinct calls such as that of the chiff chaff and the wheezing call of the greenfinch.

I'm getting very adept at recognising the various noises blackbirds make, thanks to the antics of 'Sid' in our garden. I can tell his territorial song (demonstrated from around 4.30am until it's time to eat apples) from the 'pink-pink-pink' alarm call he uses when I'm putting the compost out. He also makes gurgling canary-like noises with his beak shut when he seems really content - much more melodious than his namesake.

The robin's song is higher pitched than the blackbird's. At this time of year it's at full pelt - and I can't help but feel uplifted when I hear it. By contrast, in winter it sounds a bit sad. Sparrows are lovely - the sound of them chirping away together puts me in mind of a group of chatty friends.

The blue tit has a delicate song, while the great tit's is more urgent, like it's saying "teacher teacher teacher". The great tit's call is similar to the chiff chaff's, I think, though this is anything but urgent, and sounds like the chiff chaff is just lazily missing the right notes.

Greenfinches irritate me on the bird table - all that mess and spitting - but I do love their wheezy song. A sure sign of spring, I heard the first one of the year last week. But until now I didn't know what other calls they make (listen here) - pretty nondescript to be honest.

Finally, as my friend will hopefully now be able to identify the voice of his tormentor, so should our beloved garden birds. The sparrowhawk's call is shrill and cold, though may also sound like the noise a plastic toy makes when your dog's chewing it.

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Gardeners' World Web User 25/02/2011 at 11:56

is it too early for nightingales? There was a lovely bird song coming from a tree outside our local pub last night but we weren't sure what it was! and no we hadn't had too much to drink!

Gardeners' World Web User 25/02/2011 at 14:20

I love the song of the wren - so powerful from such a tiny bird and he makes sure we all hear by singing from the top of the tallest tree.

Gardeners' World Web User 25/02/2011 at 15:21

Oh! to hear song birds whilst you can, but if your friend is so against this beautiful sound I suggest ear plugs, if he was deaf he would long for the song of a bird.

Gardeners' World Web User 25/02/2011 at 15:43

Reply to kaycurtis: I quite agree, it is a beautiful sound, but I would much rather the damned thing kept civilised hours! ;)

Gardeners' World Web User 25/02/2011 at 16:17

I love hearing the birdsong even more when i live in the city. What are the birds that sing before it just gets bright in the morning and i can hear birds sing too at dusk in the evening.

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