Sounds of... Farmland

Guide
Skylark perched at the edge of farmland

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.

Skylark perched at the edge of farmland

The Sounds of… Farmland takes a look at the songs and calls which float over fields and hover above hedgerows when we step out into the great patchwork that makes up much of our countryside.

Whether it is a skylark ascending and dropping its magnificent melodies like a light summer rain, the yellowhammer begging for his bread and no cheese or a hoarse sounding pheasant in need of the cough sweet, this is your guide to some of the birds which make our farmlands home.

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.   

Skylark

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The skylark is bigger than a sparrow, but smaller than a starling, often seen fluttering in a hover, silhouetted against the sky. If you do see one closer, they are streaky brown with a quiff-like crest Morrisey would be proud of. They raise this when excited or alarmed – the bird we mean – although we like to think Morrisey can too.

A rich, fluid and achingly beautiful song by a bird who has mastered didgeridoo circular breathing techniques. The male flies vertically into the air to effortlessly deliver his own unique masterpiece for several continuous minutes. It ebbs and flows using hundreds of “syllables” of a similar pitch, which dance and descend around your ears.

Yellowhammer

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The male yellowhammer has a yellow belly and face, which beams brightly from high branches and hedgerows as they sing. The female is browner, and both have a streaky brown back.

The saying goes that yellowhammers sound like they’re singing for a “little bit of bread and no cheese” with the emphasis definitely on the “NO cheese”. They may be lactose intolerant, or simply haven’t yet tried Gorgonzola, either way the saying rings true.

Linnet

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The linnet is 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 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. 

Tree sparrow

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The tree sparrow may be smarter looking than the house sparrow, but they lack the cheeky chappy confidence of their more streetwise relation. Male and females look the same and go for a chestnut coloured “flat cap” in keeping with their country casual attire. Their bright white cheeks with a black patch complete the look.

More shouty than the softer more conversational tones of the house sparrow. This is more like a short sharp telling off as if you’ve walked in the house with your wellies on. 

Whitethroat

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The whitethroat’s white throat is its distinguishing feature, looking like a little feathery beard on both male and female. The bold, confident summer visitor also has a long tail and a rather large head which looks slightly too large for its body.

These showmen don’t mind being seen in song, performing out on a branch or up in the air, bouncing around like they’re on elastic. The song is a jerky scratchy number, with squeaky rapid notes delivered in quick fire bursts.

Yellow wagtail

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It would be easy to just say the yellow wagtail is yellow and wags its tail, but life is never that easy. You see, the grey wagtail is also yellow in parts and wags its tail, but this larger bird is usually found near running water and is here all year. The yellow wagtail is a summer visitor who haswith an olive green rather than grey back, and prefers running along in damp grasslands and arable land. The male has a bright yellow belly while the female is paler, as if she has been through the wash a few times.

A suitably polite and cute call for such a delicate looking bird, repeating a soft “seep seep” call when on land or in flight.

Pheasant

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The pheasant is a large long-tailed bird which can sprint like Usain Bolt but flies like a slightly more aerodynamic chicken. The male strides out in a chestnut tweed suit, white silk scarf and big red cheeks as if he has a penchant for port The female is a speckled brown all over.

The pheasant’s raspy, “Koch Koch” call sounds painful as if the poor bird has been shouting the same thing for days, which he probably has.  It is a loud, unearthly sound often accompanied by a whirring of the wings as it echoes through trees alerting other males to his presence.

Swallow

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A summer visitor who effortlessly skims over trees, hedgerows and fields in search of food. Their glossy blue backs contrast with their white undersides, while a red throat and tail streamers add a flourish just to make the house martins jealous.

Not many people know that swallows are fluent in dolphin. On still, clear summer evenings you can hear them practicing to each other in a series of entertaining cheeps, clicks, gurgles and whistles.

If you're lucky...

Turtle dove

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A dainty dove, who is smaller than their collared cousin and wears a brighter, more intricate topcoat of chestnut and black.  Forever associated with Christmas, this rare summer visitor is long gone before even the keenest supermarket puts the selection boxes out.

The turtle dove probably got its name from its ”turrr turrr” call. This soft, pleasant purring was once the sound of an English summer but now is only heard in rare locations in the south and east.

Corn bunting

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The corn bunting is our biggest bunting, with males and females looking the same, dressed in streaky brown. Yes, they’re a little bit dumpy, have big chunky beaks and they dangle their legs when flying, but we think this adds to their charm.

A metallic song which sounds like a jangling set of keys.  On hearing it, many walkers instantly do the famous “pat the pockets” dance to check they haven’t lost theirs.  Often sings from a perch or wire way up high.

Grey partridge

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The grey partridge is a medium sized dumpy bird which we believe has never actually been spotted in a pear tree. It prefers the ground, where it is often seen in groups. While their body is grey as the name suggests, their face has a fine orange glow.

A short “kirrut” call which is repeated. Sounds scratchy, like scraping a stick down a chalk board.

Want to experience the sounds of farmlands?


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