Bird Watching (UK) - - Fieldcraft Birdsong -


No apolo­gies for start­ing with our cover star. Its song, com­monly ren­dered as ‘a lit­tle bit of bread and no cheese’, il­lus­trates the dif­fi­cul­ties of de­scrib­ing birdsong, but once you re­mem­ber that it’s pre­dom­i­nantly about rhythm, you’ll start to find things much eas­ier. That ex­tended fi­nal note is the key. The whole thing is sharp and metal­lic, and re­peated with great reg­u­lar­ity.

LIS­TEN FOR: That long last note – it might well catch your ear first, so work back­wards from it if nec­es­sary.

COM­PARE WITH: Reed Bunt­ing – Slower song, with notes con­sid­er­ably more dis­crete. Corn Bunt­ing – Brief, fast jan­gle, like shak­ing a bunch of keys.


Many peo­ple’s favourite Bri­tish birdsong, and with good rea­son. It con­tains con­sid­er­able vari­a­tion in its flow­ing, fluty phrases, which are made up of throaty notes that of­ten peter out into rather hes­i­tant end­ings. Typ­i­cally de­liv­ered from a prom­i­nent perch.

LIS­TEN FOR: Mu­si­cal­ity – no other Bri­tish bird song sounds so like our idea of mu­sic.

COM­PARE WITH: Song Thrush – con­tains much more rep­e­ti­tion of phrases, typ­i­cally three times each. Mis­tle Thrush – less var­ied, and with a wilder, less mel­low feel­ing to it.


The likely cul­prit for any gar­den or wood­land bird sound that doesn’t match any other species, but the most com­mon song is a loud, stri­dent ‘tea-cherr, tea-cherr’, re­peated with great reg­u­lar­ity. Also has a ‘swee, swee, swee’ song.

LIS­TEN FOR: More me­chan­i­cal, less sing-song qual­ity than Chif­fchaff.

COM­PARE WITH Chif­fchaff – sim­i­lar two-syl­la­ble rhythm, ‘chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff ’, of­ten with an ex­tra note added at the end. Coal Tit – a rhyth­mic ‘tea-choo, tea-choo, tea-choo’, but far less stri­dent than Great Tit.


A rich, flow­ing war­ble, with rip­pling, clear, sil­very notes – un­like many birds, Robins are will­ing to sing even with hu­mans stand­ing very close by, and also reg­u­larly sing dur­ing the hours of dark­ness. The au­tumn and win­ter ver­sion is more me­lan­choly, with notes fad­ing away.

LIS­TEN FOR: Its de­liv­ery at night – master it in iso­la­tion, then it’s un­mis­tak­able.

COM­PARE WITH Nightin­gale – also noc­tur­nal, but louder and purer, and with pip­ing, war­bling and throaty phrases, punc­tu­ated by long si­lences; also fea­tures dra­matic crescen­dos. Red­start – rich and full on ar­rival, but shorter close to nest sites; sev­eral sweet ‘sreee’ notes, with a rather in­de­ter­mi­nate fin­ish.


Re­mark­ably loud, and de­liv­ered from low down within thick cover. A fast war­ble con­tain­ing a very dis­tinc­tive low, rapid trill.

LIS­TEN FOR: Vol­ume – by any stan­dards, it’s loud, es­pe­cially for a bird of the un­der­storey and un­der­growth.

COM­PARE WITH Dun­nock – even in pitch, last­ing only a cou­ple of sec­onds, and not as loud as a Wren’s; usu­ally sung from top of bush. Cetti’s War­bler – sud­den and ex­plo­sively loud, de­liv­ered from within cover. Two or three dis­tinct notes, then a fast, rich phrase, and an abrupt end.


Noisy, fast and var­ied, al­ter­nat­ing mu­si­cal, rhyth­mic pas­sages with buzzing and chat­ter­ing, and of­ten start­ing with a few rich notes. De­liv­ered from a short, ris­ing song flight, or from the top of a bush.

LIS­TEN FOR: Ag­i­tated, hur­ried qual­ity, like a bird that has too much it wants to say and too lit­tle time in which to say it.

COM­PARE WITH Reed War­bler – less an­gry and scold­ing, more rhyth­mic and repet­i­tive, more even in pitch and speed. Grasshop­per War­bler – some­times found close to other two species, but song is a me­chan­i­cal whirring noise, like a bi­cy­cle free­wheel­ing.


Not a thing of beauty ex­actly, but lively and up­beat, and re­peated ab­so­lutely tire­lessly. A se­ries of short, quite mu­si­cal, de­scend­ing notes ac­cel­er­ate into a faster, three-syl­la­ble ‘eweetchew’ flour­ish at the end.

LIS­TEN FOR: That com­bi­na­tion of brash en­ergy and slight harsh­ness.

COM­PARE WITH Wil­low War­bler – Sim­i­lar rhyth­mic, mu­si­cal de­scent, but less harsh. Starts high and quiet, strength­ens, and fin­ishes slow, quiet and a lit­tle me­lan­choly. Green­finch – loud, stac­cato, trilling rat­tle, or a wheezy ‘zweeee’.


Starts with a few chat­ter­ing notes, then mel­lows into clearer, more fluty and rather me­lan­choly notes, mak­ing up a pleas­ant mu­si­cal song not wholly un­like the Black­bird’s. Usu­ally sung from within at least par­tial cover.

LIS­TEN FOR: Also has a ‘sub­song’, of squeaky sounds and some mimicry.

COM­PARE WITH Gar­den War­bler – very sim­i­lar, but less ex­u­ber­ant, and with less ac­cel­er­a­tion in the mid­dle. Whitethroat – a short, fast, chat­ter­ing se­ries of notes from a prom­i­nent perch or a short song flight.


Ex­traor­di­nar­ily long (usu­ally up to five min­utes, and some­times as much as 20), de­liv­ered from a song flight which in­cludes hov­er­ing at up to 100m, a slow de­scent, and a fi­nal plunge. Song has lots of rep­e­ti­tion of phrases, fast and var­ied war­bles, and a whistling qual­ity at long range.

LIS­TEN FOR: Length and va­ri­ety – pin­point the sound and you’ll see the singer high up.

COM­PARE WITH Wood Lark – Short, de­scend­ing phrases de­liv­ered in song flight, re­peated reg­u­larly, but not as free-flow­ing as Sky Lark. Meadow Pipit – also per­forms song flight, with ‘parachut­ing’ de­scent; ac­tual song rather thin and weak se­ries of trills and rat­tles.


Fast and rhyth­mic, with a thin qual­ity and a flour­ish at the end – think ‘tidl-de-ee, tidl-de-ee, tidl-de-ee, tidl-de-ee-didl ’. Very high, so dif­fi­cult to hear for some bird­ers, but of­ten de­liv­ered from very close range, from the se­cu­rity of the branches of a conifer.

LIS­TEN FOR: Its whis­pery qual­ity – take plenty of time to ‘tune in’ to it.

COM­PARE WITH Treecreeper – Quick and rather thin, with a fall­ing pitch and a bit of a flour­ish at the end, and de­liv­ered with great fre­quency. Blue Tit – a quick, stut­ter­ing trill, ‘tsee, tsee, tsee, trrr’.

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