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
How to Choose Bird Seed
When it comes to feeding your garden birds, there’s an incredible selection of bird seed to choose from. Each blend has its own recipe and ingredients. Here are a few of the most common bird seed ingredients you’ll come across and the birds that like to eat them:
Niger seeds are small and black and have a high oil content. Goldfinches, siskins, greenfinches, nuthatches, sparrows and tits are all regularly seen tucking into niger seed. However, because niger seeds are so small, a special niger seed bird feeder is required.
Sunflower seeds are enjoyed by blackbirds, blue tits, chaffinches, goldfinches, greenfinches and house sparrows. They have a high oil and fat content, making them a great food source throughout the whole of the year.
Tits and greenfinches love to eat peanuts. Robins, dunnocks and wrens are also partial to them. Peanuts in a seed mix should be little more than granules. If you’re choosing a whole peanut bird feed, it’s important to put it in a dedicated peanut feeder, which will prevent birds from choking on bigger chunks of nut.
Because of their hard outer shell, safflower seeds are preferred by birds with a strong beak, such as the house finch. Squirrels don’t like safflower seeds so they’re a good option if you’re trying to deter these animals from your bird feeders.
Millet seeds are a favourite amongst doves, dunnocks, finches and sparrows. These seeds are lower in fat than some other varieties. But they are very nutritious, containing high levels of protein. And they’re easy to digest too.
Blackbirds and robins love flaked maize. It has the highest oil and energy content of all cereals and it’s perfect for feeding trays.
Why is it important to choose quality bird seed?
The quality of a bird seed depends on the ingredients used. The best seed mixes contain plenty of sunflower seeds, peanuts and flaked maize.
Cheaper, lower quality bird seeds contain a lot of “filler”. These are seeds and grains, like wheat, dried rice and lentils. This filler content attracts bigger birds, such as rooks and jackdaws, but is often bypassed by smaller birds.
Low quality feed may even include dog biscuits that you’ll see as pink or green lumps in the mix. These are only edible to birds when soaked so should definitely be avoided.
Choosing the best quality bird seed allows you to provide a nutritious meal for your garden birds. It will also see them returning again and again for another tasty treat.
A Beginner’s Guide to Feeding Garden Birds
Whether you’d like to start feeding birds yourself or you’re looking for that perfect gift for a bird lover, it’s useful to know a few bird feeding basics. Here’s our beginner’s guide to feeding garden birds, covering all the kit you’ll need and a few top tips.
There’s really very little kit you need to start feeding your garden birds. A hanging bird feeder is sure to do the trick and will attract a wide range of birds. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that not all birds can use a hanging feeder. Some birds prefer to eat seed left on the ground or on a bird table instead. Use a few feeding methods if you want to attract a wide range of birds to your garden.
Every bird species has its own favourite food. If you’d like to attract a specific kind of bird to your garden, try to find out what they like to eat. Generally speaking, birds like to eat seeds and berries. During winter months, birds use a lot of energy staying warm so leaving out fattier food, like fat balls, is a good idea. There are also foods you should avoid, particularly during breeding season. Learn about foods that can be harmful to birds before deciding on what to provide.
Birds need water as well as food. To make your garden that bit more attractive to avian visitors, provide a source of clean water and regularly replenish it. This will allow birds to take a drink and maybe even a bath.
Bird Health and Safety
Predators pose a big threat to birds. Your bird feeders should be placed away from any cover that would prove useful to a pouncing cat. Bird infections can also be a problem. Any bird feeding kit should be thoroughly cleaned, once every six months or so, to help keep disease at bay.
When to Feed Birds
It’s important to feed birds in winter. Natural food sources can be scarce and birds often need a little helping hand to see them through the colder months. However, feeding birds all year round is recommended. Food shortages can occur at any time of year, putting bird numbers in danger. Provide a constant supply of food, adapting your bird feed with the seasons and helping your garden birds to thrive.
Now you know the basics, there’s no reason not to start feeding your garden birds today. Invest in a feeder and some seed and you’ll soon have a host of birds stopping by for some food.
British Birds Have Grown Bigger Beaks! Here’s Why
Here at Boxwild, we’ve been selling our bird seed and gifts for bird lovers for some time now. But it seems bird feeders going back all the way to the 1970s could be responsible for an unusual change in the nation’s bird anatomy.
Scientists from Oxford University, Sheffield University and the University of East Anglia along with experts in the Netherlands are responsible for research recently published in the American journal Science. In a long-running study, from the 1970s to the present day, they looked at beak length and DNA in great tits, comparing birds living in the UK and the Netherlands.
They found that British great tits, over the past forty years, have grown a bigger beak. And, what’s more, they’ve discovered that this change can be attributed to changes in the birds’ DNA. It’s just a 0.3mm difference but, in evolutionary terms, that’s huge. “That’s a really short time period in which to see this sort of difference emerging,” says Jon Slate, professor in animal and plant sciences at the University of Sheffield and co-author of the study.
So how has such a massive change come about?
The Bird Feeder Effect
We already knew that feeding garden birds aids their survival through food shortages and improves their chances of fledging young. It’s thought that leaving food out for goldfinches has reversed the species’ decline. And, as farmland birds have been forced out of natural habitats, birdseed in gardens has provided a much needed lifeline. But now it seems like bird seed is such an important food source for birds that they may have adapted to make the most of it.
One of the theories put forward by the research team for the growth in beak length centres around the very British passion for bird feeding. The British spend twice as much money on birdseed as they do in the Netherlands. It seems that in order to maximise their access to the food within bird feeders, the great tit beak has grown longer.
With the use of radio-frequency tags, the scientists have shown that the longer-beaked great tits do indeed make better use of bird feeders than those with the short-beak gene variant. They have greater access to reliable food sources and are more likely to stay healthy through the breeding season. Research has backed this up further by showing that the longer-beaked great tits, on average, fledge more chicks.
There’s still much to discover about the link between bird feeders and the great tit’s growing beak but it’s undoubtable that feeding birds has had a direct and positive effect on their fortunes.
- Nikki Boxwild
- Tags: feeding birds