Abstract image representing bird songs

The sounds of autumn

Spring symphony

Bird song is typically associated with spring. The lengthening days and rising temperatures prompt a surge of hormones in male birds telling them it’s time to find a mate and defend a territory, and in many species this is released as a torrent of sound.

It's not that bird song is exclusive to the season, but there’s a sheer force to the symphony from March to May that defines it, in every garden, wood, marsh and meadow.

You can hear bird sounds all year

However, sounds are such an important means of communication between birds that there’s something to listen for throughout the year.

These are usually calls rather than songs, which are a means for birds to stay in contact with each other or find each other. Indeed, in autumn you’ve got the chance to hear one of the season’s defining sounds  – the return of wild geese.

We're not talking the honking of herds of feral Canada and greylag geese that abound on many of our lakes and gravel pits. No, these are the excited hordes of smaller geese returning from their Arctic breeding grounds to special places around the UK.

We're not talking the honking of herds of feral Canada and greylag geese that abound on many of our lakes and gravel pits.

Keep an ear out for geese returning to the UK in autumn

The main species involved are pink-footed, barnacle, white-fronted and brent geese, and come autumn they head back to some of our wilder coasts.

Migrating from places such as Iceland, Svalbard, Greenland and Siberia is a perilous journey, but especially so for the young birds which cling to the coat-tails of their parents as they travel.

There’s a palpable excitement as they come in to land and as different families meet up. It’s like a gathering of the clans, and it seems from the hubbub they have a lot to catch up on!

Listen to the barnacle geese

Here’s a recording of a flock of barnacle geese over the Caerlaverock marshes in Dumfries and Galloway. As they fly closer and pass overhead, you can make out the yaps of individual birds.

barnacle geese

A giant flock of pink-footed geese

For sheer massed cacophony, here’s a recording of a flock of pink-footed geese, when they’d just arrived back on the north Norfolk coast in late September.

At first, you can hear a few individuals giving their typical double-note calls: the adults tend to have a deeper “onk-onk”, while the youngsters still have squeaky baby-voices and give a higher “wink wink”.

But then listen as a giant flock approaches, full of maybe 5,000 or more birds. It’s overwhelming.

Such is the power of bird sounds.

pink footed goose

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