Get to know your birds

After a very long, very wet winter it is now officially spring – hurray! Not only are we blessed with some lovely sunshine and an amazing display of flowers and blossoms that are springing up here, there and everywhere. It is the birds that provide us with a wonderful ambient background noise to top it all off, greeting us from the rooftops and giving concerts out of hedges and trees.

Of course, they don’t really do this for our pleasure. It is predominantly the male birds who sing and their song at this time of year has two purposes: to stake out their territory against the neighbours, and to attract their female counterparts in order to reproduce.

How to recognise bird song puzzles a lot of people. If you invest in a CD, most of them will play you one song and call after the next which certainly doesn’t do it for me, it is just too much to take in. Nowadays you can get apps for your phone that claim to detect and identify songs but from my experience they are far from accurate (do let me know if you have found a reliable one).

I have to stress that I am absolutely no expert in the field of bird ID of any kind, but I can recognise the songs of a couple of the common birds. What has really helped me is to connect some words and mental pictures to each song, even if they might not make too much sense.

A huge source of inspiration has been the BBC series ‘A guide to British…’ with Stephen Moss, Brett Westwood and Chris Watson on woodland birds and garden birds. In these short episodes they casually discuss a small number of birds, where to find them, how they look, why they are amazing and then how they sound and, importantly, how they recognise this sound.

You can find the series on woodland birds here:

The Guide to Garden Birds doesn’t currently seem to be available on iplayer but can be purchased as a CD and I can highly recommend it.

Now is a perfect time to start learning some birdsong. It will open up a whole new world for you if you are able to recognise birds by sound, as identifying them by sight can be tricky. So, Here are three of the most common and easy to learn birds.

Great tit

So, let’s start with a nice and easy sound, the great tit. Its main song is a very easy ‘tea-cher, tea-cher, tea-cher’, although there are lots of variations on it that can even throw experienced bird spotters. Have a listen and look at the bird here:

The ‘teacher’ hint makes it really easy to remember, even for little ones. Once you recognise it, you will probably hear it everywhere!


The chaffinch can often be heard before it is seen. It is a really common bird and, again, once you got your ear in you will hear it everywhere. On The guide to Garden Birds they describe the last notes of the song as sounding like ‘ginger beer’. This is how I remember it although, honestly, it doesn’t sound anything like ginger beer. On the Tweet of the Day below it is described as sounding like a sneeze. Chaffinches are said to have regional accents and a whole repertoire of different sounds to communicate a whole range of aspects of social life.


One of my favourite birds is the blackbird. It reminds me of running around my grandparent’s allotment when I was a small child and is closely connected with my earliest memories. They can often be found on the rooftops during summer and spring evenings, singing their hearts out to mark their territories. Did you know that female blackbirds are actually brown (just like female blackcaps have a brown instead of a black ‘cap’)?

With the blackbird, it is more the tone of voice rather than the melody that is the giveaway. It has a really quite deep and ‘fruity’ tone, rather like a lovely comforting sauce with a rich, multi-layered flavour (I guess I am watching too much Masterchef?!).

Over to you

Which are your favourite birds? Are there any songs you find very easy to recognise? We would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Please let us know how you get on, it would make our day!

All the best,


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