Bird song identifier

Nothing lifts the spirits in the morning more than the British dawn chorus. Think of it as caffeine for the soul.

But wouldn't it be great to idenitfy a bird just from its song alone? To help, we've created a bird song ID playlist with some of the common birds you'll find in and around your garden or local area.

House Sparrow

  • Length of verse: can go on for several minutes.
  • The simplest of birdsongs, just a series of cheeps and chirps, one at a time, hardly sophisticated but quite enthusiastic in its own way.
Male house sparrow in tall grass

Starling

  • Length of verse: sometimes a minute or more.
  • A rather quiet and very odd song, lots of beeps and clicks, mixed with long sliding whistles, and maybe the sound of a duck or a lapwing or anything else it has heard that day! Inventive, rather electronic, this is experimental music rather than nice melodies.
 Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, perched on lichen covered branch in garden in Durham.

Blue tit

  • Length of verse: 2–3 secs
  • Typically sings ‘sispi si-hi-hi-hi-hi’, the first notes higher in pitch than the longer closing shimmer.
Blue tit, Parus caeruleus, perched on lichen covered branch in garden. Co. Durham

Woodpigeon

  • Length of verse: 6–10 secs
  • A low, lowing five-note phrase, repeated 2-4 times each verse, to the rhythm of ‘I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go’.
Woodpigeon, Columba palumbus, perched on garden trellis. Co. Durham

Blackbird

  • Length of verse: 2–3 secs
  • Each verse is different, but all in a rich, fluty, warm baritone. The pacing is relaxed, and more often than not he finishes each verse with a little squeaky twiddle.
Male blackbird on lawn

Goldfinch

  • Length of verse: 4–12 secs
  • Fast, tinkling long verses with little apparent structure, interspersed with its call note ‘tickle-it’.

Great tit

  • Length of verse: 3–6 secs
  • Famously rendered as ‘teacher teacher teacher’, seesawing between two notes of different pitch. There are many variations, but the ringing tone and seesawing is typical.
Great tit on bird feeder

Robin

  • Length of verse: 2–4 secs
  • Each verse is different, but the theme is watery, all gurgles and trickles, with slow, long notes followed by a gush. Think of a stream, with still pools and then little cascades.
Robin Erithacus rubecula, perched on brocken plant pot with flowering sedum in garden. Co. Durham.

Long-tailed tit

  • Rarely sings, and only quietly when squabbling, so instead listen in particular for the contact calls that members of a flock use to stay in touch with each other. The sound where they are getting a bit anxious is the most obvious, a rippling ‘sirrut’.
Long-tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus, collecting insects from hawthorn bush in Durham

Magpie

  • Rarely sings, and when it does it's very quiet, so instead listen for either the ‘ker-chok!’ conversational call, or the harsh dry rattle when it gets a bit miffed about something, sounding like giant matches being shaken in a box – ‘schak-ak-ak-ak-ak’
Magpie perched in hedgerow at Titchwell

Chaffinch

  • Length of verse: 2–3 secs
  • A bright short jig of a verse, about 10 notes dropping down the scale and finishing with a theatrical flourish. It then repeats it exactly a few seconds later, and so on…

Greenfinch

  • Length of verse: 6–15 secs
  • A lively sequence of trills of different speeds, such as ‘dibbi-dibbi-dib’, ‘ju-ju-ju-ju-ju’, interspersed with a nasal ‘dweeeeez’.
Greenfinch, Carduelis chloris, male perched on blossom

Song thrush

  • Length of verse: 1–2 secs
  • Loud, confident, but it is the ‘repeat and move on’ structure that is so different from any other common bird, singing a note or very short phrase, repeating it once, twice or maybe three times, and then on to a completely different.
Song thrush

Dunnock

  • Length of verse: 3–4 secs
  • Quite a long verse, a fast, squeaky ditty without pause or change in pace.
Dunnock on a branch

Wren

  • Length of verse: 4–6 secs
  • Superfast outburst, packing in 100 notes or more, linking together several mini trills including a dry rattle with the speed of a mini machine gun.
Wren singing on a branch

Coal tit

  • Length of verse: 3–6 secs
  • The squeaky little cousin of the great tit, singing a seesawing ‘wee-gee wee-gee’ from conifer trees in a higher baby-voice pitch.
Coal tit Parus ater, Aberdeenshire

Blackcap

  • Length of verse: 3–6 secs
  • Perhaps the sweetest of all garden bird songs in leafier gardens, quite a long verse that typically starts hesitantly, but half way through he finds his confidence to let rip with pure fluty melody.

Chiffchaff

  • Length of verse: 3–12 secs
  • Sings its name, a metronomic mix of staccato chiffs, chaffs and choffs in random order.
Chiffchaff singing from willow tree

Collared dove

  • Length of verse: 10-20 secs
  • Lethargic repetition of ‘cu-COO-coo’, to the rhythm of a bored ‘u-NI-ted, u-NI-ted’

Guide to Birdsong

RSPB Guide to Birdsong by Adrian Thomas covers all the common birds in the UK and includes a fully narrated CD covering 70 different species