Week 11: Snipe to Egyptian Goose

Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus) & Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola)

Sometimes you come across a bird sound that makes you go  ‘huh?’

Say hello to the snipe.

(Photo: Edd Deane)

The snipe’s display noise isn’t a song or a call – it’s produced by air vibrating through its tail feathers, and is known as ‘drumming’.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Similar in appearance to the snipe is its cousin the jack snipe. It too is known for its excellent camouflage and interesting sounds.

Jack Snipe
(Photo: Tony Hisgett)

The jack snipe sounds like the unexplained sonar signal just before the submarine gets attacked by a monster of the deep in a horror movie.

(recording: Tero Linjama)
(Photo: Hugh Venables)

The last in this trio of dumpy camouflagers is the woodcock. Its crepuscular breeding display flight, known as ‘roding’, is sometimes accompanied by this strange combination of grunts and squeaks.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) & Shoveler (Anas clypeata)

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.

Yes, but what kind of duck?

I’ll be the first to admit that duck noises aren’t the most glamorous things in the world of avian acoustics. That’s why it’s taken me 11 weeks to get to them. But have a listen anyway. You might be surprised.

First the obvious one. The mallard. Your average park duck.

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Mallard couple (female in foreground)

Slightly unusually, the female of the species is more vocal than the male

(recording: Thomas Lüthi)

Another common park duck, in England at least, is the tufted duck.

Tufted duck

Tufted ducks aren’t as shouty as mallards, but when they do make noise, it’s a higher-pitched quack. Not really a quack at all, more a ‘karr’.

(recording: Terje Kolaas)

Less common, but still regular enough to warrant a mention, is the shoveler (on no account mention the size of the bill – they’re a bit sensitive about it).

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Shoveler (male)

Again, shovelers aren’t that vocal, but the males will make this ‘tik tik’ sound as they chase each other around the pond.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Eider (Somateria mollissima), Wigeon (Anas penelope) & Teal (Anas crecca)

Finally we get to a bird of interest to fans of 1970s television comedy.

Male eider
Female eider
(Photos: Kjetil Ree)

The eider, as has often been pointed out, sounds like Frankie Howerd. I have nothing to add to this observation.

(recording: Tim de Boer)

But the eider doesn’t hold the monopoly on vaguely comedic duck noises. Here’s the wigeon, with its distinctive whistle.

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Wigeon (male)
(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Also of interest to the avid ducklistener is the peeping call of the teal.

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(recording: Tero Linjama)

Wigeon and teal are predominantly winter birds in the UK, coming here in quite large numbers and hanging around estuaries and lakes and such like. Eider, on the other hand, are sea birds – catch them in Scotland all year round or elsewhere in the winter.

Gadwall (Anas strepera), Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) & Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)

A duck, a goosey-duck and a grebe (walked into a bar…)

I’m including the gadwall partly because it is traditionally referred to as an ‘underrated’ bird, as if it’s a midfielder or a writer of dense literary fiction. Also because I like them.

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The gadwall’s quack is the quintessence of quack, as quacky a quack as ever was quacked.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

The shelduck, on the other hand, such a large duck it’s almost a goose, is capable of possibly the least ducky sounds you can imagine.

(recording: Peter Boesman)
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Little grebe

Meanwhile, the little grebe, a bird with the annoying habit of diving the moment you train your camera on it, has a hissy fit in the corner. Pay it no heed. (PS The little grebe is also known as ‘dabchick’, a name I would like to get back into general usage)

(recording: Peter Boesman)

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), Greylag goose (Anser anser) & Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca)

Right. GEESE.

Here’s your standard park goose, the Canada goose (in its rare two-headed manifestation). People hate them. They poo and honk and bully and breed (how DARE they) and generally, just, you know, live.

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Canada goose

The sound of a Canada goose is not a subtle thing. HONK. But never mind that – listen to the wing beats. The weight of these birds.

(recording: Thomas G. Graves)

Another familiar goose, farmyardesque, is the greylag. I don’t know what to say. They’re fine if you like that kind of thing.

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Greylag goose

Here’s a flock of them calling.

(recording: Andrew Harrop)

The pink-footed goose, on the other hand, sets the pulse racing. Here’s (as the saying has it these days) why.

That sight and sound, hundreds (if not thousands) of pink-footed geese rising from a muddy estuary, is well worth the early start of a winter’s morning.

*newsreader voice* And finally, a fairly recent addition to the British goose fraternity, the Egyptian goose. Here’s one helping its ancestor keep watch for intruders.

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Egyptian goose and friend

‘But Lev, what kind of sounds does an Egyptian goose make? Is it a soft cooing or melodious warbling?’

Yes, that’s right. Soft and melodious. Cooing and warbling. Definitely.

(recording: Peter Boesman)

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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