Week 6 – Whitethroat to Reed Bunting

Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)

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This is one of the most welcome sounds of spring and summer. All the way from Africa, will you please put your hands together for the WHITETHROAT.

I love whitethroats. I love the way they sit on bushes nice and still, saying ‘I’m going to stay here until you’ve definitely identified me’. Very obliging. They do their fair share of flitting and hiding, too, but when singing they like a perch.

The whitethroat’s song has a scratchy, gruff quality, a bit jerky, with short snatches of very similar phrases. I’ve seen it described as ‘a jumble of unmusical notes’, which I reckon is a bit harsh.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

They also do an attractive short song flight, often returning to their perch.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Look out for whitethroats around tangled vegetation and scrub from the middle of April. Listen to it now and you’ll be ready to impress your friends.

Fill your boots with whitethroat song here.

Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)

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If you’re the kind of person who thinks that no small garden is complete without an acre or two of woodland, you might describe the treecreeper as a garden bird. Otherwise, it’s off to the local woods for a sighting/hearing of this fascinating bird.

It’s one of those names that describes the bird’s activity, like shearwater, turnstone, and headcrapper (this is not an actual bird. Don’t write in.)

The treecreeper’s song is very high pitched, with a thin, shivering quality.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Treecreepers also make this thin, piping call. The scrabbling sounds you can hear in the background are the bird’s feet on the tree’s bark.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

The call, in particular, is one of the very long list of sounds filed under ‘aagghh what was that I know it was something different’.

All the treecreeper sounds here.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)

Meadow Pipit

The meadow pipit is a small brown streaky bird, habitué of open country, especially moors and heaths and downs and rough grassy bits.

Its song is an indication of Good Things. Its tseeps start slow, and accelerate, without ever reaching terminal velocity. Here it starts steady while perched, then goes into flightsong mode.

(recording: Peter Boesman)

The meadow pipit’s thin call – the latest in a long line of thin calls specifically designed by the bird community to confuse humans – is also a common sound.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Meadow pipits! We got ’em!

Birds of Prey: Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus), Buzzard (Buteo buteo), Red Kite (Milvus milvus), Peregrine (Falco peregrinus)

Britain has 16 birds of prey, give or take (yes yes owls are birds of prey too – but they are usually listed in field guides in a category of their own – they’re covered in Week 5). Here are five of them, the ones you are, in general, most likely to see.

Being likely to see them, though, doesn’t mean you’re likely to hear them, because a lot of them are strong, silent types. This makes sense. The last thing you want, as a hunter, is to advertise your presence to your prey with a loud ‘cooee! Coming to get you, ready or not!’

But they do call to each other, or get alarmed, and they do also sometimes need to attract a mate, so it’s a good idea to get familiar with some of the more common ones.

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First, the kestrel, or windhover, as it used to be known.

Mostly silent, the kestrel sometimes makes this kiikiikiikii sound in moments of stress, if it senses an intruder, or if it steps on Lego

(recording: Bodo Sonnenburg)
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The sparrowhawk, yellow of eye, sharp of claw, and bane of the urban garden feeder, is also a bird of notable taciturnity, but in the breeding season might make this rather plaintive call.

(recording: Marc Anderson)
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One of the more vocal birds of prey, the buzzard, often gives this mewing call during one of its trademark broad-winged thermal-riding soars.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)
Red kite

Anyone who lives near the M40 will be familiar with the sight of the red kite. It’s not as vocal as the buzzard, and the call has a similar mewing quality, but somewhat shriller. Check out the forked tail on it, too.

(recording: Marco Dragonetti)
Peregrine with chick

And finally, the peregrine, denizen of cliff and crags and, increasingly, tall urban buildings. Mostly very quiet, but occasionally minded to have a bit of a yell.

(recording: Manuel Schweizer)

More sounds here: Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Red Kite, Peregrine.

Mute swan (Cygnus olor)

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Mute swan

Given its name, you might be forgiven for wondering what the mute swan, that unique combination of elegance, beauty and power, is doing in a birdsong feature.

You might not hear it that often, but the mute swan’s song is a thing of quiet and understated sweetness – churrs and squeaks and soft murmurings.

(recording: Katalin Kovács-Hajdu)

But get too close to one in a feisty mood and it’ll soon remind you, with a furious hiss, to step away from the swan I SAID STEP AWAY FROM THE SWAN.

(recording: Ireneusz Oleksik)

Another part of the mute swan’s admittedly limited repertoire is the trilling click, as here in this assortment of calls.

(recording: Teet Sirotkin)

But the most glorious of their sounds, a reminder of just how huge they are, is the magnificent noise their wings make in flight. To hear this from a distance, getting gradually closer, on a crisp winter’s day… ah yes. Yes indeed.

(recording: Joost van Bruggen)

A fine collection of mute swan sounds here.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)

Reed bunting

Here’s one of those birds that might be placed in the ‘underrated’ folder.

Birders love an underrated bird. It makes us feel like connoisseurs. It’s like your favourite cricketer and writer being Rikki Clarke and J L Carr, rather than Ben Stokes and Evelyn Waugh (other examples are available).

The reed bunting, when choosing its song, went for simplicity. ‘I’ll have two from the top please, Carol, and one from the middle.’ Chrewp-tseep-chirrrdldle.

I find it pleasing to walk round a nature reserve with this simple, repetitive song in the background. I mean, it’s not Mahler, but there’s a time and a place, you know?

Shall I give you an example of the reed bunting’s short ‘tsieuw’ call? I’ll give you an example of the reed bunting’s short ‘tsieuw’ call.

(recording: Lars Edenius)

So there it is. The reed bunting’s song. Simple. Beautiful. Classic. Like Spinal Tap’s Black Album.

More reed bunting sounds are available here.

Ready to move on? Week 7 is here.

This 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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