Sounds of…Parks and Gardens

Guide
A house sparrow on a thorn bush

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 out into the open air this spring and summer.

A house sparrow on a thorn bush

Sounds of…Parks and Gardens

The Sounds of… Parks and Gardens includes some of the more well-known birds which appear in our towns, cities and countryside. In fact some of them, like the wren, appear almost anywhere. 
 
We have also created another page, Sounds Of… Parks and Gardens – Tits and Finches.   
 
So whether it is the screech of a swift soaring overhead or the space age song of a starling, we hope this guide will help you identify the calls of some of the most iconic species which sing, or shout, as you head outside this spring and summer.. 

House sparrow

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Ah the house sparrow, the little brown bird with a lot of character, often found in small flocks in gardens and parks. Males look like little old men, with a black “beard” and a grey cap, while females are all brown.  

It may not be beautiful but their short and sharp cheeps and chirps bring a cheerful chatter to any occasion. Groups often have ‘conversations’ which seem to go on for days, possibly gossiping about those frisky dunnocks.  

Dunnock 

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Never call a dunnock a sparrow. They might be small, they might be brown, but they don’t like it.  Often seen alone, nervously hopping in your shrubbery, they like to think they look neater than the sparrow, with a thinner beak.  

Some say it sounds a little like a marker on a whiteboard, but we think this is doing a disservice to the dunnock’s ditty. Yes, the four or five second song is squeaky and a little tuneless, but it is also cheerful, fast and sung with gusto.  

Starling

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Starlings are a medium sized bird often seen stomping around gardens in their shiny black suits like little bird bouncers. But look closer and their subtle beauty is revealed, with their fine feathers shimmering purple and green in the sunlight.  

A space age tune to match the glistening get up, incorporating a series of clicks, beeps, sliding whistles and rattles as bird song goes experimental. Starlings are great mimics and throw in samples of owls, curlews, car alarms, chainsaws or anything else they have heard, just because they can.    

Blackbird

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The blackbird’s name is bang on for the male, who is a black bird, with a bright orange eye-ring and matching beak. But less so for the female who is brown, with dark spots and streaks on their breasts.  

A true songster, this flute-like warm, mellow song bathes you like the evening sun. A male adapts and learns new 3-4 second phrases throughout his life, which he then combines and delivers with a relaxed, confident tone. Often concludes with a twiddly flourish.  

Song thrush

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The song thrush is a smart looking bird around the size of a blackbird. Dressed formally in brown, but with a dapper white speckled ‘shirt’ underneath.     

A series of samples carefully curated to form a golden chain of melody. Each sample consists of a note or shrill repeated for a few seconds before moving onto the next. Males master up to 100 different samples, ‘borrowing’ some from their neighbours. They are great mimics, with some males adding the odd man-made sound into their repertoire. 

Woodpigeon

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The woodpigeon is our biggest pigeon who always looks a little confused by life. They look neater than the feral pigeon, with a light grey “suit” and a white and green neck collar. But their manner is slightly comical and sometimes clumsy, hence the nickname ‘clatter dove’.      

We don’t know where they’re on about, but the woodpigeon definitely “don’t want to go”, or so their repetitive low song would have you believe. They repeat it time and time again to the point where they have probably forgotten too.

 

Collared dove

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The collared dove is smaller than a woodpigeon, with a great bobbing walk like Mick Jagger. Light grey with a black collar, hence the name.  

A true loyal fan - their chant of “un-it-ed, un-it-ted” rings out relentlessly over rooftops, regardless of if their team are winning or not.  

Wren

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The wren is a tiny plump brown bird with a tail which sticks up almost 90 degrees. Our most common bird is often seen flitting at speed between cover. Seems to have adapted to living in everywhere there are cracks and crevices to look for food.

For such a small bird, the wren is loud, firing out its song like a flurry of high-pitched machine-gun fire. More than 100 notes can be crammed into a few seconds of linked trills, shrills and rattles.  

Robin

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The robin - red breasted style icon, the Hollywood A-lister of the garden bird world. The male and female look the same, and possess the same plucky, pushy and sometimes downright fierce character traits which defy their cute, plump looks.  

Often the first bird you hear on a morning and the last at night, the robin loves to sing. Its tune is thoughtful and reflective, more melancholic in winter and brighter and more confident in spring. It is delivered in three or four second verses of slower chirps and faster shrills which aren’t repeated.  

Blackcap

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We will start with the obvious – the blackcap has a black cap. Well, the male does, the female’s more of a chestnut. Both are grey and around the size of a chaffinch. Some winter here, but many more return to our shores in spring to breed.  

The nightingale of the north needs a little time to get in his stride. First a quiet chattering of notes as if the poor fellow is trying to remember the lyrics. But then in a flash, confidence returns, and he sets sail a song of flute inspired magnificence. 

Listen up!

Swift

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Swifts spend summer in the UK, often seen flying high overhead like a fast-flying dark crescent moon. Its wings are long and narrow and it has a short forked tail.    

More of a screechy scream than a melodic masterpiece, their high-pitched piercing calls break the stillness of a warm summer evening. Most often heard in groups as they race over rooftops in an ariel game of noisy tig.  

Swifts are in real trouble, but by providing plenty of places for them to nest, we can make sure their evening song doesn't fall silent. Find out more.

House martin 

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House martins arrive for the summer, bringing its DIY skills to build or repair a home, often underneath the eaves of houses. It’s glossy blue-black upper body and wings are offset by a striking white behind.   

Short fast ‘jik jik’ notes fired repeatedly overhead, like the sound of a miniature star fighter’s laser beams.  

If you're lucky...

Spotted flycatcher

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The spotted flycatcher is a summer migrant which doesn’t stay long and can go unnoticed in its brownish grey attire. But these birds have real flycatching skills – jumping out from their perches to catch insects mid-air. Best spotted in mature gardens, churchyards or parks.   

Their call is heard more than their song, and even then it can be mistaken for a squeaky old wheelbarrow in need of some WD40.