Sounds of... woodlands
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.
The Sounds of… Woodlands takes you on a sun dappled audio tour of the birds which choose to live among the trees.
So whether it is the angry screech which gives away a jay or the dynamite drumming skills of the great spotted woodpecker, we hope this guide will help you identify the calls of some of the species which sing, or shout, as you head out into the woodlands this spring and summer.
Of course, many of our more common birds also live in woods, you can hear their songs in the Sounds Of… Parks and Gardens and Sounds of Parks and Gardens - Tits and Finches pages.
The chiffchaff is small olive coloured bird which hardly sits still, flitting through the trees and shrubs looking for insects and spiders.
They compete with the great tit for the best two-syllable song, but theirs is softer and more rounded in style. It sounds a little like they’re singing “chiff chaff chiff chaff”, which is either a massive coincidence, or the reason behind their name.
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.
The willow warbler shares the same stylist as the chiffchaff, therefore it is pretty hard to tell these birds apart. But they do often have slightly paler legs and their eye stripe is longer and more yellow.
Thank goodness they don’t share the same music taste as the chiffchaff, instead opting for a waterfall of notes, starting high and descending before a final splash.
Our most colourful corvid, the jay puts the rest to shame with its pastel pink plumage and wings of black, white and electric blue. Despite their hot looks, they are shy and difficult to spot.
They may be shy but they do like a loud angry-sounding screech, often issued in flight as if we’ve annoyed them with our presence.
With a golden crown and a name that literally means little king, the tiny goldcrest is woodland royalty. Usually spotted in coniferous woodland on the hunt for spiders and bugs.
A song so high you don’t know if you have heard it or got tinnitus. Mainly composed of two high-pitched notes repeated several times before a flourish – a little like “Do you, do you, do you, do you, really want it?” sung by a baby cartoon chipmunk.
Great spotted woodpecker
The great spotted woodpecker is around the size of a blackbird, but with a more jazzy outfit of black and white, with a red rump. Males have a matching red patch on the back of their neck which is there all year round, ruling out sunburn.
The percussion maestro, firing out a burst of dynamite drumming to impress his mate and warn others to back off the mic.
Photo: Frank Vassen
The tree pipit is a summer visitor dressed for safari, with brown streaky wings and head, and a dappled buff coloured chest. They do look a little like a small song thrush and a lot like a meadow pipit.
Likes to sing in the sky. Jumps up and launches into a chaffinch like stutter before releasing a flutter of fluid notes, before descending back to the tree.
If you're lucky...
The pied flycatcher is a small black and white bird, with the male bolder in its outfit choice than the browner and more subtle female. They head to the UK’s western woodlands every summer, darting from branches to catch lunch.
Like a bumpy squeaky train, bouncing along for a few seconds, then hitting the buffers. Likes to vary the final few notes, just to keep you on your toes.
Well for a start the common redstart is red, at least the male is. They’re about the size of a robin, but with a black mask and a silver grey cape like a feathery superhero. The female is duller, but both can be seen in the Western parts of the UK during spring and summer.
This bird likes to sing, sending out a two to three-second verse, having a pause, and then firing up again. And repeat, in some case for hours.
The first part of the verses becomes quite predictable, but the second is less so, with the redstart often mimicking other bird’s songs, as if they couldn’t come up their own ending.
A burst of summery citrus, the wood warbler is larger than other warblers with a beaming yellow breast and eye stripe. Particularly fond of oak forests in the west of the UK.
Said to sound like a coin spinning on a shiny marble top. Repeats it often, suggesting they are rubbish at betting on if the coin lands on head or tails.
The marsh tit is a small mainly brown tit but with a black head. A bit like the coal tit without the bald patch. It’s a lot like the willow tit, so much so they were thought to be the same species for many years. The name is a cunning attempt to remain aloof as they are more often found in woodlands.
“Sip sip sip” goes their song, as if advising a friend that their tea is still very hot. Their call is more interesting, with a cute “pishoo” often followed by a comical laugh “hehehehehehe” as if they are amused by their own sneeze.