Spring Birdsong: How to Identify Garden Birds from their Song
The sound of birdsong is one of the first welcome signs that spring has sprung. Our trees, our hedgerows and our gardens are once again noisy with the warbling and calling of birds.
Each bird species has its own unique song. Here are a few pointers on how to identify them:
You may have heard the robins in your garden singing their high-pitched trill all the way through winter. During the spring and summer, their song takes on a little more gusto. They tend to sing first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening. At dusk and dawn most other songbirds are roosting so robins get the stage to themselves.
Listen to the song of the robin here.
The great tit starts singing early in the spring. Its song is hard-sounding, with two sharp notes – higher and then lower – repeated again and again. Because great tits love to visit bird feeders, it’s often possible to see as well as hear them singing.
Listen to the song of the great tit here.
Despite its small size, the wren has a powerful set of lungs. If you catch sight of it singing, you’ll see its whole body vibrating with the power of its song. Its calls are loud and warbling and easy to recognise even though they’re so varied.
Listen to the song of the wren here.
Chiffchaffs are some of the first migrant birds to arrive in the UK in the spring. And they stick around until the end of the summer. The chiffchaff has a gentle, plodding song that sounds just like its name.
Listen to the song of the chiffchaff here.
Blackbirds are year-round singers. They can sometimes be heard singing quietly in the undergrowth during winter months. But it’s from spring until the end of July (the end of the breeding season) when you’re most likely to hear its full-throated song. Blackbird song is varied, rich and flute-like, often ending with a few squeaky, high-pitched notes.
Listen to the song of the blackbird here.
The chaffinch is another bird with great variety in its song. Typical characteristics, however, include a loud trill that descends into a little flourish at the end. The noise can be remembered with the phrase, "chip chip chip chooee chooee cheeoo".
Listen to the song of the chaffinch here.
See if you can distinguish a few garden birds from their song this spring. Recognising the species that visit your garden will help you to provide the right food. And give you lots of enjoyment too.
8 Interesting Facts about Goldfinches
The goldfinch is one of the most common birds in British gardens. And it’s certainly one of the most striking. Here are 8 interesting facts about these beautiful birds:
#1 According to the RSPB Big Birdwatch 2018, goldfinches have had a bumper year. Recorded sightings rose 11% from 2017 and goldfinches were spotted in an incredible two thirds of gardens. There are currently thought to be 1.2 million breeding pairs of goldfinch in the UK.
#2 Male and female goldfinches look pretty much the same. Juveniles, however, are much duller in appearance. They are mainly brown with some yellow markings on the wings. And they don’t yet have the distinctive red face that they’ll gain in adulthood.
#3 The goldfinch’s attractive colouring and appealing song meant many Victorians kept them as caged pets. The RSPB fought against the practice but it was only in 1933 that the sale of wild birds was made illegal and the wild goldfinch population began to recover.
#4 Goldfinches can be found in a number of religious artworks from the Italian Renaissance. Because it eats thistles, the bird was associated with Christ’s crown of thorns and was referred to as a “saviour” bird.
#5 The goldfinch’s scientific name is Carduelis carduelis. The name is derived from the Latin word for thistle – Carduus – the seeds of which are one of the goldfinch’s favourite foods. They are able to avoid thistle spikes and access these tricky to reach seeds because of their long fine beaks.
#6 Goldfinches traditionally made their homes in farmland. Now, however, they’re often seen in gardens. This is partly down to the food we leave out for them. They have a particular love for niger seeds and sunflower hearts. They are also known to eat small insects.
#7 Goldfinches nest later in the season than most other garden birds. Eggs hatch from June all the way through to September. Nests are made from grass and mud and built high up in trees and hedges. They’re lined with plant down (for heat and comfort) and covered with lichen (for camouflage).
#8 A flock of goldfinches is called a charm. They’re social birds. Once breeding season is over, they can be seen roaming for food in flocks around 40 strong. Groups of up to 100 have also been spotted.
If you’re yet to see goldfinches in your garden, leave out a few of their favourite foods. You could also try growing teasels and lavender, both of which are known to attract these pretty songbirds.
8 Interesting Facts about Robins
The robin is a common garden visitor and was crowned Britain’s favourite bird back in 2015.
Boxwild Sells the perfect gift for those who love Robins: Robin Bird Seed Gift Box
Here are 8 interesting facts about these famously red breasted birds:
#1 Robins enjoy a varied diet of seeds, fruits, insects, worms and other invertebrates. They can be quite bold when searching for food, making friends with gardeners and looking out for worms in soil that’s being turned over.
#2 Despite the fact that they’re so widespread, a robin’s life expectancy is just 1.1 years. This is because mortality rates are high in the first year of life. A severe winter can have a terrible effect on the robin population. Bird tables with a regular supply of food can help.
#3 They may seem small and sociable but robins are aggressive when it comes to their territory. Males are quick to drive away intruders, fiercely attacking other males and sometimes even fighting to the death.
#4 We don’t really know how the robin came to be a symbol of Christmas. But we do know that robins can be found in our gardens all year round. They’re one of the only birds in the UK which can be heard singing on Christmas Day.
#5 Robins have been helping scientists with their research into magnetic fields. It’s thought that a specific substance in the birds’ eyes allows them to actually see the Earth’s magnetic field. This helps to explain how migratory robins from Northern Europe find their way south for the winter.
#6 Robins usually build their nest on or near the ground. They make use of sheds, kettles, boots, coat pockets and farm machinery – whatever nook or cranny they can find. They use nest boxes too, but only if they are open fronted and placed in a secluded location.
#7 Both male and female robins sing for most of the year. They take a break when they’re moulting and want to remain inconspicuous. Their song also changes throughout the year. In the spring, their song sounds powerful and lively. During the autumn it takes on a more subdued tone.
#8 Robins are active in the dimmest of light. They’re one of the first bird species to start singing in the morning and one of the last to stop in the evening. They can sometimes even be heard singing in the night, particularly if there are streetlights nearby.
Welcome robins to your garden with a well-stocked bird table or ground feeder and you’ll be treated to beautiful song all year round.
Boxwild Sells the perfect gift for those who love Robins: Robin Bird Seed Gift Box
Keep your bird feeders clean to prevent diseasesScientists have warned that garden bird feeders are contributing to the spread of avian diseases. Even previously rare diseases are turning into epidemics amongst some bird species.
- Nikki Boxwild
- Tags: birds
How the Robin Became a Symbol of Christmas
To celebrate the launch of our Robin Gift Box, we have put together an article on our favourite festive friend!
The robin is one of the most common and best-loved garden birds in the UK. Contrary to popular belief, both males and females sport the characteristic red breast, although young robins only develop the colouring as they get older. Robins sing all year round, working to defend their territory (which they do fiercely) and to attract a mate. Making their homes in woodland, parks, hedgerows and many a garden, robins can be spotted during every month of the year.
So, if we’re as likely to see a robin in summer as we are in winter, how did the bird come to be a symbol of Christmas? There are countless robin gifts, cards, decorations and even Christmas jumpers and the festive season doesn’t feel like it’s started until we see a red breasted robin in the garden. There are a number of theories as to why.
Some fables link the robin to Christianity. The story goes that the robin was once a plain, brown bird. The bird went to sing to Jesus who was dying on the cross. Blood from Jesus’ wounds then stained the breast of the bird and from that moment on, the robin passed its red breast down through the generations.
Another legend places the robin at the birth of Jesus. On a chilly night in Bethlehem, a brown bird fanned the flames of a fire to keep the baby Jesus warm. Scorched by the fire, the breast of the bird turned red forever more.
However, it seems like the real reason for the robin’s association with Christmas can be traced back to Victorian times. Victorian postmen wore red coats. When Christmas card giving became popular in the mid-19th century, these “red breasted robins” could be seen going about the streets delivering festive well-wishes. Robins soon came to be featured on the Christmas cards themselves, often with a letter in their mouths, as a representation of the postmen who delivered them.
Whatever the truth behind the legend of the Christmas robin, the bird is a welcome sight in our gardens at any time of year. The species is thriving, with a 45% increase in the robin population recorded since 1970.
This is good to see as the robin experiences a high mortality rate. Many don’t make it through the winter due to a scarcity of food. A garden supply of winter bird feed can really help the robin to survive a particularly cold spell of weather. With some fatty and calorific seed mix on offer, those red breasted robins will be regular garden visitors throughout the festive season.
Love Robins? Check out our Robin Bird Seed here in our Winter Bird Seed Box
How to Identify Wild Birds
You don’t have to know the names of the birds that visit your garden. Seeing them there can be enjoyment enough. However, knowing the names of the species you see gives you the opportunity to learn a little more about them. It can also help you to provide the food and habitats your feathered friends like best.
Here are some handy tips for identifying wild birds in your garden:
Note Down Characteristics
Birds aren’t likely to stay put whilst you give them a thorough examination. You need to make a note of key characteristics before a bird disappears from view. Size, shape and colouring are all important features that can help you to distinguish one bird from another. The shape of the bill and legs are particularly useful. Birds of prey have hooked bills whilst seed-eaters tend to have short, stout bills. And webbed feet is another big giveaway.
Search Online or in A Book
Nowadays, searching for a bird online is the easiest way to make an accurate identification. There are databases that allow you to type in the features you have recorded and find a shortlist of potential matches. But doing things the old-fashioned way still holds its charm. A good bird guide is an essential piece of kit for any would-be bird spotter.
Watch Out for Red Herrings
There are plenty of bird features that could lead to a misidentification. Here are some things to watch out for:
- Young or female birds sometimes have different colouring to male birds of the same species.
- It’s very difficult to make an accurate assessment of a bird’s size when it’s in the air.
- In cold weather birds can fluff out their feathers for warmth making them look very different to the standard images you’ll find online or in books.
- Captive birds sometimes escape. If you spot an exotic bird it could be that this isn’t something you usually find in the wild.
Being able to identify birds successfully is a learning process. The more birds you see and correctly identify, the easier it will be to identify future unknowns. You could visit a bird sanctuary or nature reserve to get to know different bird varieties. This will help with identification back at home in the garden.
Identifying the birds you see in your garden is a great activity to share with children. But it can be a fun undertaking whatever your age. With a few items of basic kit you could soon be recognising your birds and adapting your garden to better meet their needs.