Sounds of...coastal cliffs

Guide

Birdsong: it is the soundtrack to our adventures, the tunes to which we explore. This is your guide to some of the brilliant birds whose songs accompany you as you head outside this spring and summer.

The Sounds of… Coastal Cliffs surrounds you with the calls, cackles, shouts and seductive songs of the birds which love living life on the edge.  


The number of birds here can be vast in spring and summer, creating an eclectic rhapsody of sound which soaks the senses like ocean spray as you walk along narrow paths where the land falls into the sea.  
 
We hope this guide will help you pick out and identify the sounds of some of these amazing birds as you wander across headlands this spring and summer. 


Of course, many of our more common birds also live here, you can hear their songs in the Sounds Of… Parks and Gardens and Sounds of Parks and Gardens - Tits and Finches pages.

Herring gull

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A big self-confident gull smartly dressed in pale grey and white. Has a bright yellow beak with a red spot and pink legs with webbed feet. Equally at home on cliffs or at your local seaside resort.   

The sound of the seaside. A series of squawky laughs, piercing calls and cries which make us think instantly of fish and chips, soggy dogs and pretending it is much warmer than it actually is.   

Kittiwake

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Gentler looking than the larger herring gull, with dark eyes and a smaller style of beak. Goes for matching black legs and wingtips, which look like they have been dipped in ink.  

Seems annoyed by the fact you even considered for one moment they might be another type of gull. Their name is “kitti wake, kitti wake, kitti wake” of course.  

Razorbill 

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The dapper razorbill is a fan of two-tone, going black above and white below. Its thick set bill carries on the theme with a flashy white stripe.  

Sounds a little like an angry old-fashioned kettle being taken on and off the boil, which makes us think of one thing: tea.   

Guillemot

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A seabird city regular, they dress appropriately, in formal dark brown and white. Sometimes they accessorise with a thin white line and eye ring like a pair of spectacles. Their slender beak is the best way to tell them apart from the similar razorbill.  

A forced hysterical laugh like they’re shouting “AHHHH HAHAHAHAH” at some unfortunate passing pigeon. Often heard as part of a large group, all joining in with the mockery.  

Rock pipit

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Named after their preferred habitat, not their music taste, these brown-backed birds look like a little song thrush. They are often seen hopping and running over rocky coastline looking for food.

More of a mousey squeak than a seductive serenade, with the same “peep” repeated numerous times.  

Linnet 

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A slimline brown and grey finch, the male’s red breast and forehead look like they have been dabbed on by a toddler. The female linnet managed to escape before the child got too close.   

A joyful fluid song which sounds like a bird enjoying himself. The melodic whistling is interspersed with bright trills and cheerful chirps which sparkle like summer rain. 

Stonechat 

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The male looks a like a robin in a balaclava, with a bright orange chest offset by a black head and a white collar. The female is browner, with a more subtle orange breast.  

A bit angry, with four or more shouty notes linked together in phrases of a couple of seconds.  
More distinctive is its call which gives the stonechat its name, as it sounds like two stones being rubbed together. 

Jackdaw

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The jackdaw may be our smallest crow, but it's got the looks, with its bright eyes and a neck scarf of shimmering grey. Keeps its friends close, living in communal roosts, where they have been known to accessorise nests with the odd shiny trinket.  

“Jack, Jack, Jack” is their name and they like telling you about it, repeating it over and over to anyone who will listen.  

Feral pigeon 

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The feral pigeon, or rock dove, originated on coastal cliffs before setting out on its great urban adventure. Comes in many shades. The wild rock doves, which still live on the northwest islands of Scotland and Northern Ireland, are mainly grey with a shimmering red and green neck scarf.  

A quiet “c-c-c-coo” which sounds like an embarrassed giggle, as if they have seen something they shouldn’t have.  

If you're lucky...

Puffin

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The clown of the cliffs, the parrot of the precipice, whatever your take on the puffin, it is a bird who dares to be different. Their formal black DJs and white shirts are offset by their big orange feet and brilliantly bright yellow, blue and red bills.  

Imagine the sound of a very small cow, or one which is just very far away.  Or maybe a slowed down version of Alan Partridge doing his signature “Ah ha!”.  

Chough

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A stylish member of the crow family, decked out in black, which contrasts with its bright red legs and beak.  A brilliant acrobat, its aerial displays can be seen along the west coasts of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  

A clear loud “cheeow, cheeow” call which is higher in pitch than the carrion crow, but can still make you jump.

Gannet

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Spectacular large sea bird which is mostly white, with black wing tips and a blonde Elton John-style wig. Nests on cliffs at sporadic locations around the coast, where it can be seen diving deep into the waves to feed.  

They may have the Elton wig, but they don’t have the melodies, instead opting for a call that sounds a bit like a car trying to start with a dodgy battery.  

Peregrine

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A large, stocky and superfast falcon which has the air of a stylish gent. They wear a blue-grey suit with a black and white striped shirt beneath, their face white with a big black moustache. Legs and beak of a golden hue complete the look.  

A confident cackle by someone who knows they are the fastest thing on earth. Their boastful call is repeated over and over as they survey their world from way up high.  

Want to experience the sounds of coastal cliffs?

Why not visit one of the RSPB's nature reserves!