Week 10: Corn Bunting to Capercaillie

Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra)

The corn bunting is one of ‘those’. ‘Those’ as in ‘small and brown and probably disappearing into a bush just to taunt you’; ‘those’ as in ‘disturbingly similar to several other little brown jobs’; ‘those’ as in ‘population has declined massively since the 1970s’.

Corn bunting
(Photo: Zeynel Cebeci)

The corn bunting’s song starts hesitantly, and accelerates upwards to a jangling ending. It’s often compared to the sound of a bunch of keys.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Back in the day, corn buntings could be found on farmland everywhere, sitting on a perch and giving their song patiently for ages. Not any more. If you see one, enjoy it.

All the corn bunting sounds you could ever want.

Woodlark (Lullula arborea)

The woodlark is fairly localised in Britain, so apologies to those who have no chance of seeing it. But it’s well worth seeking out it, should you have the opportunity.

Get yourself to the New or Ashdown Forests (other forests are available) and thrill to the song flight of the woodlark.


(Photo: Alastair Rae)

Like its cousin the skylark, the woodlark shows off in the air. But unlike the relentless outpouring of the skylark, the woodlark’s song flight is more relaxed.

It circles widely, high up, drifting along before eventually parachuting to the ground. The song has a wonderful, melancholy descending lilt.

(recording: Joost van Bruggen)

Woodlark central.

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)

While you’re out looking and listening for woodlarks you might as well keep an ear out for this one too.

Yes, it’s yet another small brown bird, the tree pipit.


(Photo: Dr. Raju Kasambe)

The tree pipit’s a summer visitor, lured here by the warm and welcoming attitude of the British to visitors from abroad.

Like the woodlark, the tree pipit can be found in open woodland, and is particularly fond of flying up from a perch on one tree before parachuting down to a different one while giving its song flight

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Hear the gamut of the tree pipit’s repertoire here.

Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret) & Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea)

(Photos: MPF & Estormiz)

It’s time to correct an oversight.

I forgot the redpolls. Redpoll fans up and down the country are up in arms.

I could go into excruciating detail about the history of the taxonomy of these birds. Aren’t you glad I’m not going to? What I’ve done by forgetting about them is, I’m afraid, very London-centric. I don’t see them around here, so I just plain forgot about them. In the north and west, you’ll no doubt know them (especially the lesser) very well. Sorry about that.

Anyway, the sounds: like a lot of small finchy doodahs, the redpolls make a selection of ‘tsirip’, ‘chibit’, ‘tsweeoo’ and ‘chirrip’ noises. How helpful of them.

Here are some lesser redpolls doing their thing.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

And these are common redpolls doing similar things.

(recording: Paul Marvin)

Just to add to the confusion, common redpolls are less common in Britain than lesser redpolls. DON’T COME AT ME I DIDN’T DECIDE WHAT TO CALL THEM.

Here are more lesser-repoll-y sounds.

Ditto the common redpoll.

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) & Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca)

I like birds with literal names. You kind of know what you’re getting. Blackbird, bee-eater, yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Same with the flycatchers. Spotted on the left, pied on the right. (And yes, strictly speaking ’streaked flycatcher’ would be better than ‘spotted’. Shush.)

(Photos: Ivan Petrov & Ron Knight)

The spotted flycatcher has an endearing habit of sitting on a perch, doing an erratic and fluttery flight to catch its prey, then returning to exactly the same spot.

Entertaining though that can be, its vocalisations are thin and a bit weedy – the call is a short ‘tsip’.

(recording: Mats Rellmar)

Its song is barely more sophisticated, but no less endearing for all that. It’s as if it’s trying quite hard to chat you up, but can only repeatedly say ‘er, hello’.

(recording: Lukas Thiess)

The pied flycatcher, on the other hand, has a sweet and charming voice. Perky, but not irritatingly so, and with a happy blend of warble and tsweep. The old smoothie

(recording: Patrik Åberg)

So those are the catchy-flysie-birds. Delightful little things, I’m sure you’ll agree. Look out for them in the summer – spotted fairly well distributed, pied more in the north and west. Neither the commonest nor rarest of birds.

Here are lots of spotted flycatcher noises.

And here the pied.

Black Grouse (Lyrurus tetrix), Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus) & Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus)

The world of bird noises is full of mystery and wonder – and these birds more than most.

Say hello, with a due sense of wonder, to the black grouse, red grouse and capercaillie.

(Photos: Steve Garvie, MPF  & Siga)

These birds produce some of the strangest sounds of any British birds.

The black grouse sounds as if it’s humming along to a techno track from about 1995. The squawks about a minute in are from another bird telling it to shut up. At 1’15” a third bird joins in with the chorus

(recording: Jarmo Pirhonen)

The red grouse, meanwhile, mutters to itself like a house elf on helium.

(recording: Bernard Bousquet)

And finally the crowning glory, possibly the oddest sound made by any British bird (and that’s up against some pretty stiff competition), the capercaillie.

This capercaillie sounds as if it’s rolling a ball bearing down a plughole while taking breaks to sand a grasshopper and hit some water with a tennis racket.

(recording: Elias A. Ryberg)

If you want more (and why on earth wouldn’t you?), they are here: black grousered grouse, capercaillie.

Ready to move on? Week 11 is here.

The Twitter Birdsong Project is a free resource. However, if you enjoy it and would like to support it, you can buy me a coffee.

The recordings on this page were made by various people, and are used here under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. These and many more can be found at the excellent resource xeno-canto.org

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