Week 2 – Wood pigeon to Chiffchaff

Wood pigeon (Columba palumbus) Collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto) / Stock dove (Columba oenas)

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Wood pigeon

Compared to some of the other birds we’ve listened to so far, the wood pigeon’s song is pretty easy to pick out. It’s a cooing sound, of course, although quite often there’s a throatiness, a sort of ’40-Marlborough-A-Day-For-Thirty-Years’ quality. Its lilting syncopated rhythm is one of the things that sets it apart from other pigeons and doves.

You might have read various versions of lyrics you can think of to help you remember it. Things like ’take two cows, Taffy’ or ‘my toe bleeds, Betty’. Can’t be doing with them myself (the rhythm is wrong – who says Taf-FY or Bet-TY?) but there you go. If they help, they help.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Without wishing to confuse you too much, I’m going to throw two other pigeony/dovey types into the mix, because it’s useful to have them side-by-side.

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Collared dove

The collared dove’s song is similar to the woodpigeon’s, but has three notes instead of five. (Simon Barnes likens it to a football fan continuously chanting ‘U-ni-ted, U-ni-ted’. This is a mnemonic on board with which I can get.)

(recording: Ruslan Mazuryk)
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Stock dove

And the stock dove opts for a one-and-a-half or two-note pattern.

(recording: Niels Krabbe)

Coo! A page of wood pigeon song.

And collared dove.

And stock dove.

Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)

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Here is a bird that I wonder if we take for granted a little too easily. We tend to say ‘oh look, a blue tit’, when what we should be saying is ‘oh my GOD just look at that beautiful thing and it’s hanging UPSIDE DOWN from the feeder LOOK AT IT’.

The blue tit is responsible for quite a few sounds. Here’s the song. Two (sometimes three) piercing ‘tsreep’s followed by a series of lower, faster notes with a softer tone.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Here’s a blue tit’s alarm call. A quite different sound, although with a similarly strident quality.

(recording: Ireneusz Oleksik)

And here’s a recording with a variety of blue-tittish sounds.

(recording: Stanislas Wroza)

Feast yourself on blue tit sounds here.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

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Goldfinches are charming little things. Literally, because a group of them is called a ‘charm’.

The goldfinch’s song has a tinkling, bell-like quality. It’s fast and busy and there are also some excellent squeaks and whirrs in there too. Also listen out for their flight call as they bounce around overhead.


(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Flight call:

(recording: Peter Boesman)

Pour a glass of wine, sit back and listen to the tinkling sound of the goldfinch all night long.

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

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Some birds are nice. Some birds are helpful. Some birds restrict their output to one or maybe two sounds. The nuthatch, much as I love the pastel-shaded bandit-masked little perk-bundle, is not one of those birds.

It has a wide variety of noises at its disposal, and while they sound quite different, they’ve all been taken out of a box marked ‘Attention-Seeking Bird Calls’. You’ll hear them in woodland, often louder than the general burblings of other birds, and they all have a repetitive, exclamation-marky quality to them.

Here’s its song:

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Here’s an insistent, percussive call:

(recording: Louis A. Hansen)

And here’s a variation on that:

(recording: Lars Edenius)

There’s a slightly hysterical urgency to both those, like someone shouting ‘FIRE!’ without checking whether there is one.

This one has an edge to it:

(recording: Elias A. Ryberg)

And finally here’s an alarm call (as if some of the others didn’t already sound quite alarmed).

(recording: Patrick Åberg)

You can find many more nuthatch sounds here.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

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Ah, the goldcrest. I could go on for hours about this bird (not least because of its fantastic scientific name, Regulus regulus. But again, I’ll spare you. It and its cousin the firecrest are tied for the prize of Europe’s equal smallest bird.

Its song is very high, thin and piping. I transcribe it thus: tsee-bada-tsee-bada-tsee-bada-tsee-bada-scabba-diddle-oo. Listen out for the repeated phrase, and also the squiggle at the end. And, as I say, very very high. As you get older, you might lose the ability to hear it. Which is a crying shame.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

You’ll find goldcrests in a conifer near you, fossicking around looking for tiny insects and rarely staying still long enough for you to get a good look. They might also be making this sound.

(recording: Lars Edenius)

The goldcrest’s xeno-canto page is here.

House sparrow (Passer domesticus)

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The house sparrow used to provide one of our most familiar sounds. Sadly a 71% decline in the last 40 years means you hear it much less nowadays. It’s on the conservation red list.

I’ve deliberately avoided using this space as a soapbox for conservation lecturing. It’s supposed to offer respite from doom and gloom. But AAAAAAAGGGGGGGHHHHHHH.

The house sparrow’s song is very simple. Chirp.

(recording: Jayrson Araujo de Oliveira)

It makes a variety of other sounds, but they’re all chirps as well.

(recording: Joost van Bruggen)

Chill out to the relaxing sound of relentless sparrowy chirping here.

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

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This one should be a doddle compared to some of the others we’ve covered so far. With some birds, the clue to the song’s in the name: kittiwake, hoopoe, nessundormabird. (There is no such thing as a nessundormabird.)

The chiffchaff is named after its song, which is a repeating two-noter. Perky and punchy, with short, separated notes, one higher than the other. That’s not quite right, actually, because they go off-script with the odd chuff or choff to change the pattern, but those are the basics.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Some people can get confused between the chiffchaff and another two-noter, the great tit. But have a listen to the great tit here and you’ll hear the difference.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Apart from the difference in timbre, the chiffchaff’s two notes are always more separated.

Loads of chiffchaff song here, if you’re really into listening to tiny variations in chiffchaff song.

Ready to move on? Week 3 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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