−−− BY LINDA JENKINSON −−−
Winter is the perfect time to begin learning birdsong as there are very few birds actually singing. Birds sing when they are holding a territory and most birds only do this as spring approaches. However, robin and wren hold a territory throughout the winter months. Unusually, both male and female robin hold separate territories and each of them sing. This gives us double the amount of robins singing in the winter, some of them well into the night and before dawn.
As the days begin to lengthen in the new year, more and more resident birds will begin to sing if the weather is mild enough, and by early March the songs of our first spring migrants will add to the chorus.
Most people struggle with birdsong and it’s not surprising. There are a lot of similar sounds to differentiate between and it takes lots of practise. Here are some tips to help you.
1. Forget trying to name the birds and listen to songs the way that birds do. When a bird is holding a territory, it will sing then it will pause to listen to its neighbours of the same species.
METHOD: Listen to one song with your eyes closed and notice the notes, pitch, rhythm and phrases of that song. When you have picked up the song, wait until the bird stops then see if you can hear the song being repeated elsewhere. You can practise this in your garden and, once you can recognise a song, you can then name the species.
2. Get yourself a good CD. I recommend the sound recordist, Geoff Sample. He takes you to specific bird habitats and gives you a chance to guess the species before telling you what it is.
3. Download an App. A good one is Chirp! by Spiny Software Ltd. You can listen to individual species or you can select some favourites and test yourself in the quiz. You can score your efforts to see if you are improving.
Learning birdsong takes time and commitment but avoid listening to too many songs at once. If you do, you’ll start to falter and your confidence will drop. This is normal when learning so don’t get too disheartened. Just start slowly and keep trying. While learning though, please don’t be tempted to play birdsong outdoors on your phone during the breeding season. This will disturb breeding birds.
Linda Jenkinson teaches people about birds in and around Leeds. For details of classes email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07778 768719. Visit www.startbirding.co.uk or Start Birding on Facebook and Twitter.