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Learning Bird Song in Spring

Identifying Bird Song

Have you ever wondered how to recognise bird song and figure out which bird is singing? I’ve found a great hack to easily identify bird song; perfect for beginner bird watchers.

British bird song

If there were a Eurovision song contest between birds, the British birds would definitely win it! They may not all look as striking as an exotic Bird of Paradise but they can certainly belt out a pretty tune. Hearing the birds begin to sing again each year is one of the most uplifting and welcome sounds after a long and often gloomy winter.

hot chocolate
dawn chorus

Learning bird song

I’ve always been in awe of those people that can hear birdsong and recognise individual birds. How is that even possible? What a cool skill!

In the last few years, I’ve been in bird-song training… methodically teaching myself to recognise the voices of my local birds, and gradually those further afield too.

The key is to be patient and limit yourself to learning a handful birds per year.

Ignore the rest of the noise and pick 5 birds to focus on each spring. You’ll soon know those 5 bird songs so well, they’ll be etched in your mind for life.

Over just a few years, you can build an incredible repertoire of bird song and officially classify yourself as a bird geek.

The best time to hear bird song is very early in the morning when you can enjoy the dawn chorus.

children map reading

5 Birds for 2024

Here are 5 great bird songs to learn in 2024.

1. Great Tit

I love this little bird. It’s a common garden visitor and sings REALLY loudly. The Great Tit is bigger than its family members the blue tit and coal tit, and is easily identified by its black ‘bib’ (the black stripe on its belly.)

Their most common song is very clear and easy to recognise. Often referred to as sounding like ‘tea-cher, tea-cher, tea-cher’ I think is sounds more like ‘pe-po pe-po pe-po’.

It’s always lovely to find a great pair of tits. (Come on…. You can’t resist a tit joke!)

Listen to the Great Tit’s song here on the BTO website.

2. Song Thrush

One of my favourite birds, Song Thrushes like to perch at the top of a tree to belt out a tune. Their song is awesome! It’s a mix of whistles and melodies, seemingly random but always repeated 2-4 which makes it easy to identify. They start singing in winter and are so loud they’re hard to miss!

Listen here to the Song Thrush’s amazing song.

3. Great Spotted Woodpecker

It’s always exciting to see a woodpecker. They’re black and white with a splodge of red under their tails and an extra splodge on the back of the head for males. I used to think they were quite rare and hard to spot until I realised I wasn’t looking or listening properly.

There are two easy ways to identify the woodpecker. The first is their iconic drumming sound made by hammering their bill against a branch (marking their territory). This is easily heard wherever you might be, both urban and rural.

The second is by recognising their distinctive flight pattern and flight call. As a woodpecker flies, it seems to bounce or undulate a little like a skimming stone on water, accompanied by a loud ‘peep peep peep’ or ‘tchick!’ sound. Once you know how to see and hear them in flight, you suddenly realise they’re everywhere!

4. Chiff Chaff

Chiff Chaffs are GREAT! They may not be the most exciting birds to look at (a kind of browny/yellow warbler) but they have a brilliant and very easy to recognise song.

Chiff Chaffs are migratory and arrive back to the UK in Spring. This year, I heard my first Chiff Chaff on the 12th March. Hearing them again each year is like welcoming home and old, quite noisy friend.

This is a great bird to learn because they literally shout their name at you ‘CHIFF CHAFF CHIFF CHAFF CHIFF CHAFF!’ But just so it’s not too easy, sometimes they say ‘chaff chiff’ or ‘chiff chaff chaff’. Either way, once you know it you can’t hide from them… they’re everywhere.

Listen here on the Woodland Trust website.

5. Wren

The Wren is one of the UK’s smallest birds with a little stubby tale but it has an impressively loud and beautiful song. They are often found in the garden but don’t tend to visit bird feeders, instead flitting about in hedges and undergrowth.

As such, you’re likely to hear them from a lower level than birds like Great Tits or Song Thrushes. They’re song is a lovely loud warble which trills and rings out in a heart-warming melody.

Listen to a Wren here.

There’s a lovely BBC Bitesize video here on Bird Song with the legend that is Bill Oddie.

Why do birds sing?

We’re so lucky in the UK to have such a diverse range of birds with some incredible songs – quite a choir!

Male birds sing both to mark their territories and show the ladies just how wonderful they are. Female birds don’t normally sing but they can make calling sounds. As such, if you hear a bird song it’s probably a boy. Birds are very territorial, especially in spring and summer during the mating season.

bird watching with kids

Did you know….

  • Robins
    Though we all love a chirpy little Robin, they’re actually one of our most aggressively territorial birds and will fight over a good patch. You can often see male Robins charging after each other as they fight it out.
  • Blue Tits
    It’s said that blue tits will choose a mate dependent on the brightness of their colours. A bright yellow tummy may signal that they’re good food collectors… the more caterpillars eaten, the brighter the bib and subsequently the better a parent!

Bird references

As an extra aid, I have the Collins Bird Guide app on my phone so that I can listen to each bird song and try to learn it. Really useful for out on walks too as a quick reference and reminder of your chosen bird song and to confirm you have indeed identified it!

If you’re looking for a good bird reference book, I’d highly recommend Rob Hume’s Birds of Britain and Europe. Learning to identify different birds can be pretty daunting… there are quite a few of them to get your head round. This book has a really useful ‘similar species’ box on each page which gives helpful suggestions for those moments when birds all look confusingly alike.

children bird watching

For kids there’s a fantastic series of board books that play bird song. See our Guide to Books for Nature Loving Kids more details.

Cats & Dogs

We all know that cats and birds don’t mix well. Evidence has shown that our increasing cat population is having a hugely detrimental impact on our native bird numbers (just to add to the problems of habitation loss, reduced natural food supply, and loss of nesting sites…)

If you own a cat, the best thing you can do to help the birds is;

  • keep them in at dusk/dawn during fledgling season in spring and summer
  • add a bell to their collar
  • keep bird feeders away from trees and hedges where cats can perch.

Similar for dogs and ground nesting birds. Best to keep them on a lead in spring/summer when walking near ground nesting birds. If you’ve found a baby bird, find out what to do here.

Outdoor Adventure Guides

As you head out on your autumn family adventures, make sure you have our Outdoor Adventure Guides to give you inspiration and ideas for awesome autumn family activities.

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