Week 3 – Long-tailed Tit to Willow Warbler

Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

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Bumbarrel, mumruffin, fluff on a stick. Whatever you call them, they’re a boon. And the sound of them is part of that booniness. (Boonery? Boonage?)

The long-tailed tit makes a variety of sounds, from thin sisisisi to abrupt tchrrk. It’s not a loud sound – they’re irrepressible but not intrusive – so sometimes it might take a few seconds to register.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

They like to move around in packs, moving from tree to tree, denuding them of their buds and chatting to each other as they go. It’s that sociability, along with their undeniably cute appearance, that makes them so appealing.

Have a look and a listen out for them next time you’re in a park or a wood or anywhere with bushes, hedges or trees. And learn that sisisisi tchrrk sound to help you home in on them.

A whole world of long-tailed tittery lies in wait.


Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)

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Here’s a bird to set you up for the day. If you’re lucky enough to hear one of these this you will be blessed from dawn to dusk. I guarantee it. (Terms & Conditions apply)

The greenfinch’s song has several elements: a soft twittering trill, occasional squeaks and tweaks and pings, and the trademark zuzzing snore, which is often what catches the attention. (‘Zuzzing snore’ © Josie George, aka )

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

It has a few similarities with the goldfinch’s song. Both birds can sound as if they’re talking excitedly to themselves. Here’s the goldfinch for comparison.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

But the greenfinch has a softer quality and tends to stick to the same notes, whereas the goldfinch jumps up and down and throws in more, and harsher, squeaks and squiggles. And then there’s that zuzzing snore.

Ooh and also, to me it sounds as if they’re sifting through a box of Quality Street and occasionally find a Toffee Deluxe. ‘orangecremeyukgreentrianglechocolatetoffeefingerOOOOOHHHHstrawberrydelightyuktoffeepennycoconuteclairOOOOHHHHH’.

An excellent selection of greenfinch sounds right here.


Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

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The starling deserves a place in the pantheon of birdsong. If you ever see one, stop for a second and pay it homage. Because they’re simply miraculous. Murmurations. Mimicry. And just look at that plumage.

This is the starling’s song, a dazzling combination of clicks, chirps, whistles, swoops, trills and glides.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

As well as its own repertoire, the starling is able to impersonate a huge range of other sounds, from other birds and animals to non-natural sounds like car alarms. The birds of the 1970s got the trimphone down to perfection.

Here’s one impersonating about five other birds, including house sparrow, jackdaw and coal tit (although there are other birds in the background).

(recording: Stanislas Wroza)

There are many more starling sounds here.


Coal tit (Periparus ater)

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Here’s a bird I regard as underrated and all too easily overlooked. ‘Underrated’ is a word used a lot by birders. It’s used so much about the gadwall that the gadwall is now in danger of being overrated. But this is not the gadwall. It’s the coal tit.

The coal tit’s song, like that of the great tit and the chiffchaff, is a two-noter. But while the other two are comparatively sedate, the coal tit’s has an element of hysteria.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

There’s a different timbre to the coal tit’s song as well – if we must compare the great tit’s song to ’teacher teacher’, the coal tit’s is ’tswootweetswootwee’. Or something like that. You’ll come up with your own transliteration (transliterating birdsong is a mug’s game).

I try not to get all musical about these birdsongs, because a) confusing and b) not necessarily helpful. But the relative speeds of the three calls (in a rigorous scientific test conducted by me five minutes ago) are: chiffchaff 96 bpm great tit 120 coal tit 144 APPROXIMATELY

Here they are for comparison:

Chiffchaff

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Great tit

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

The coal tit also makes a variety of calling sounds, all short and high and disturbingly, on first hearing, like the sounds lots of other small birds make. They do it to annoy and confuse us.

(recording: Stanislas Wroza)

Addicted to coal tit sounds? Get your fix here.


Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) & Green woodpecker (Picus viridis)

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Great spotted woodpecker

Headphones on, volume up to 11 – it’s time for woodpeckers.

You’re most likely to see or hear two kinds of woodpecker in Britain these days (the lessed spotted woodpecker has sadly become rather scarce). The sound most associated with woodpeckers is their drumming. Here’s one I saw in February 2019 in South London. (You can just see it in the middle of the picture.)

Great spotted woodpeckers also have a distinctive ‘kick!’ call. If you hear this, look up – it’s quite often given from near the top of a tree.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)
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Green woodpecker

The other common member of the family in these parts is the green woodpecker. You might have heard the green woodpecker’s mocking call from the other side of your local wood. Our resident one is particularly fond of taunting me. He’s often heard, rarely seen. By me, anyway.

Here’s a recording with the green woodpecker’s laughing call followed by a spot of its drumming. The drumming lasts longer than the great spotted woodpecker’s – a bit more like the classic horror film creaky door.

(recording: Lars Adler Krogh)

There’s a range of great spotted woodpecker sounds here.

And the same thing for green woodpeckers here.


Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

black gray and orange bird
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Three weeks in and I’m sure you’re all mighty birdsong gods and goddesses by now. But here’s one you might struggle to hear, simply on grounds of volume.

It’s the bullfinch.

To describe the bullfinch’s song, I’m going to quote Samuel West (), from his Tweet of the Day some while ago. ‘The voice of the bullfinch is completely out of step with its appearance. It looks like a bouncer and it sounds like Wheezy from Toy Story.’

I have nothing to add to that.

(recording: Elias A. Ryberg)

The various calls of the bullfinch are no more powerful, and just as endearing.

(recording: Sander Bot)

Bullfinch sounds galore right here.


Willow warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

Willow_Warbler_Phylloscopus_trochilus

If you’re looking at a willow warbler, you’ll struggle to differentiate it from a chiffchaff. Luckily their songs are very different. This is the willow warbler’s.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

And this, for comparison and in case you’ve forgotten, is the chiffchaff’s distinctive two-noter. Almost identical to look at – completely different when listening.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Soft in tone, there’s a plaintive quality to the willow warbler’s song, often offset with a little skip in the step at the end, a moment of uplift, the unexpected Jaffa Cake hiding beneath the Rich Tea in the biscuit tin of life.

To my ears, the descending shape of the willow warbler’s song is more similar to the chaffinch’s, but with a softer tone. You’re not going to confuse them, I don’t think, but one can be a guide to remembering the other. This is the chaffinch’s again.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

The willow warbler also has an upwards-lilting whistling call, like it’s trying to catch your attention from over the road.

(recording: Bram Piot)

All the willow warbler sounds you could ever want.


Ready to move on? Week 4 is here.


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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