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Planning Retirement Online

Out of the box.  Bird listening

                                     July 2010

This is our regular OUT OF THE BOX feature where we give suggestions on different things to try.      

If you have tried something unusual or different, tell us all about it - and send in a photograph as well if you can – so that we can share your experiences with others.



This month we look at ……  Bird listening.

The sounds of summer

Birds singingThere are hundreds of different birds in the UK, some living here permanently and others regular visiting at different times of the year. Bird watching is a popular hobby but for something slightly different, why not take up bird listening.

Every bird, along with its distinctive features and habits, also has an individual bird call and song. Birds, like humans, use their voices to communicate; their higher pitched tones are very efficient for covering good distances.

Each species of bird has its own particularly style of call and voice – the call is used to give alarm and for other forms of general contact while the longer and more charming songs are usually used to attract mates and to claim and defend territories.

Some species, such as gulls and kingfishers, do not have songs, but a vast majority of birds in Britain, especially now in the summer, have wonderful repertoires.

The summer is indeed the best time for starting this great hobby, and especially really early in the morning. Most people will have heard of the dawn chorus and this really does happen. It usually starts just before sunrise with just one or two species singing, often a blackbird is one of them. Then birds such as a wren, great tit, song thrush and chaffinch will take up the song and this will be followed by more and more birds until there is a real symphony of sound.

But summer isn’t the only time you can enjoy this pastime. Here in Britain we have a wonderful selection of birds all year round, and you can go out and listen to different bird calls at virtually any time of the day and year. Birds are especially vocal during the breeding season, but birds can sing through all the seasons. Both males and females can sing, for instance female robins can be just as noisy as a male.

Many bird enthusiasts recognise the sound of a particular bird long before they spot it in the hedgerows or trees. Learning to distinguish the different calls of even our most popular birds takes time and patience, but the rewards are wonderful. Walking through the countryside or woods and being able to identify the birds that are singing from their hidden perches is a unique experience.

To start this wonderful hobby, you need to have some basic information. There are many websites available to help you identify the sounds you hear with birds. is a really useful site for beginners but there are many books, CDs, DVDs and other websites to help start you off.

A good way to start is by simply sitting outside your home and trying to note down the sort of sounds you hear. If nothing else, it gets your ears attuned to the special pitches of variations in bird calls. It is like learning a foreign language; to begin with it is just a jumble of different noise, but over time you can begin to identify very individual sounds and phrasing. Go for walks and listen carefully; stop and try and spot the bird singing and then try and identify the species; you will need a good bird book but gradually it will all become easier. Being able to record wild birdsong is very useful so that you can take the sound back home and compare it with prerecorded sounds until you are confident you have identified the species correctly.

There are lots of helpful hints for beginners; for instance the song thrush’s song is all about repetition, comprising a few phrases all chained together whereas the great tit has a very definite loud, high pitched squeaky call. Once you have identified the beautiful song of a blackbird, you will remember it forever.

There may well be some bird clubs in your area and all bird enthusiasts are also interested in bird song; some even run special walks with experts to help you identify birds and their calls. As far as I can discover, there is no word yet to describe “bird call enthusiasts” but one may come soon as more and more people are beginning to enjoy the sounds as well as the sights of our wonderful wild birds.

Along with the website mentioned above, other useful sites include:

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