The snow is thick on the ground and a hat, scarf and gloves are essential outdoor wear, but one step outside shows that spring is definitely on the way. The birds are finding their voices. It’s slow progress, but listen out and you’ll pick out more and more new songs as the days and weeks pass.
Do you have a favourite birdsong? I love the way the song of the mistle thrush carries for miles, like a fanfare announcing that spring is coming. I heard my first of the year at the end of January. The wild, fluty song sent shivers down my spine. It’s a cliché for describing moments with nature, but it really did.
Perhaps you’re more of a song thrush fan though. Technically more musical, cheery and at rapid pace, its song is very different. I’m sure people’s taste in bird song varies just as much as it does in music - classical or rock; mistle thrush or song thrush?
When the sun shines, things really get going. Great and blue tits sing their simple ditties from the treetops and starlings ‘click’, ‘cluck’ and ‘squeak’ from conifers and television aerials. The chances are a collared dove, or woodpigeon will be ‘cooing’ persistently in the background. This is the warm up act for what is to come, but enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.
By March, most of our resident birds are in song. The loud phrases of chaffinches and wrens burst from bushes and the walk home through my village takes much longer than usual as I stop to listen to the simple, but sweet songs of blackbirds.
It seems a long way off now, but in April and May, the dawn chorus reaches a peak. The sound of migrant species like chiffchaffs and cuckoos joins the throng and swallows twitter overhead. Picking out individual songs becomes hard, as the songs blend into one harmonious performance. Definitely something to look forward to!
The luckiest man alive
I’ve already admitted my penchant for the simpler verses of the mistle thrush and blackbird, but my taste is definitely mainstream when it comes to a bird acknowledged as the king of songsters.
On some nights in May, I feel like I am the luckiest person alive. Stepping outside into my garden, I’m whisked away into the most intense musical performance.
Paxton Pits nature reserve in the village of Little Paxton, Cambridgeshire curves around my garden. This fortunate arrangement provides me, for just a few weeks of the year, with a very special garden bird.
An east wind drifts the song of three different nightingales my way. A south wind brings two. On still nights, I can hear half a dozen of them. The song comes from every direction and I stand and listen for ages. It’s completely overwhelming and I feel like I should be selling tickets! People come from all over the UK come to hear the nightingales here, so I feel very lucky.
I can only hear them at night though. They’re the only birds singing then, so there’s no competition, or noise from over-revved engines or barking dogs. They sing into the early hours, competing with one another, but nothing else. The stage is theirs.
Beware of the ‘not-ingales’
Night-singing robins are frequently mistaken for nightingales (even in winter when the nightingales are in Africa!), but once you have heard the genuine article, you realise that this does the nightingale, and its incredible, powerful song, a real disservice. The ‘twinkling’ song of the robin has its charms though. Now, what was that I wrote earlier about different tastes in music...
Heard something good?
Why not keep a note of when you hear your ‘firsts’ this year and post a comment below (you’ll need to register first). Want to know what a nightingale sounds like? Maybe you’ve heard a song you’d like to identify? Why not listen to our comprehensive collection of bird songs?