How to identify different bird song in Yorkshire

Bluethroat singing in a rape field (c) Zwilling330/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Bluethroat singing in a rape field (c) Zwilling330/Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Garden bird song is a glorious sound, but do you know your robin warble from your blackbird melody?

House Sparrow by Tom Harris

House Sparrow by Tom Harris - Credit: Archant

This summer, the artificial background noise to our lives – the rumble of traffic, the screech of trains, the roar of aircraft – suddenly turned down a few notches. And out of this eerie quiet came a sound that many of us had perhaps not paid that much attention to before – birdsong.

Even just a few decades ago, the chorus of garden birds was much stronger than it is today, with many species having suffered severe declines due to factors like climate change and increased industrialisation. The song thrush, once one of our most common garden visitors, has suffered a 77% loss in numbers since 1979.

Robin by Mike Langman

Robin by Mike Langman - Credit: Mike Langman

But there is hope. With increased awareness of the plight of our garden birds, some species are showing signs of recovery. House sparrows have declined by 57% since the 1970s, but in the most recent decade their numbers appear to be recovering with a rise of around 17% since 2009.

Welcoming birds into our gardens and outdoor spaces by putting up bird feeders, installing bird boxes and maintaining a bird bath can all help these lovely animals on their road to recovery, but it’s also so rewarding for us too. There are few sounds on earth more sweet and joyful than birdsong. So now you’re experiencing the new-found joy of birdsong through your open window, can you tell who is singing? As lovely as the birdsong chorus is, it’s even more rewarding when you can distinguish all the different instruments! Here are some of the most common spring and early summer birdsongs and who they belong to – why not start a checklist and see how many you can hear in a week? Remember, you don’t need a garden to take part – listen out on your daily walks, or even through an open window.

Wood pigeon by Mike Langman

Wood pigeon by Mike Langman - Credit: Mike Langman


One of the most quintessential emblems of Christmas, the robin is actually visible – and audible – all year round. Our robin red-breast has a thin, high-pitched warbling song with lots of constantly changing notes; listen out for sounds like ‘twiddle-de-dee’ with long pauses in between.

Starling by Mike Langman

Starling by Mike Langman - Credit: Mike Langman

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Wood pigeon

You know that soft, hooting noise you used to think was an owl when you were a child? That’s actually a wood pigeon. Once you know, it’s a very easily identifiable, repetitive song – it’s often described as sounding like ‘my toe hurts, Betty!’ over and over again!

Great tit by Mike Langman

Great tit by Mike Langman - Credit: Mike Langman


The song of the starling is just as vibrant as the technicolour sheen of its plumage. Starlings sing an amazing variety of bubbling trills, whistles and creaks, and they are amazing mimics too – they have been known to mimic the sounds of mobile phones and even car horns!

Blackbird by Mike Langman

Blackbird by Mike Langman - Credit: Mike Langman

Great tit

A great way to get you started on your birdsong ID journey, the great tit’s classic song sounds like ‘teacher, teacher’, usually repeated many times with a clear, ringing tone. But it doesn’t end there – great tits have a huge repertoire, with more than 70 different calls having been recorded.

Goldfinch by Mike Langman

Goldfinch by Mike Langman - Credit: Mike Langman


For such a relatively plain bird, the blackbird has a lovely, melodious song. It is mellow, unhurried and elegant, like someone playing a flute. The song is also quite chatty, like they’re having a conversation. They love to sing from the tops of trees or houses at dawn and dusk – so listen from your bed!

House Sparrow by Mike Langman

House Sparrow by Mike Langman - Credit: Mike Langman


This beautiful bird is a rainbow of colour, with a vivid red face and bright gold flashes on the wings. Another social bird – gathering together in loose colonies called ‘charms’ – their song is a lovely, fluid melody of twitters and chirps.

House Martin by Mike Langman

House Martin by Mike Langman - Credit: Mike Langman

House sparrow

The house sparrow’s song is a fairly simple repetition of sharp ‘chirrup’ notes. It has a friendly, chatty quality – sometimes it almost sounds like a laugh!

Chaffinch by Mike Langman

Chaffinch by Mike Langman - Credit: Mike Langman

House martin

The small, elegant bird has a soft, twittering song which can be heard from spring when they return to the UK. They are almost always on the wing, so you’ll hear their song mid-flight. Their unusual mud nests are often found below the eaves of buildings.


This bird’s song is as brassy as its pink and blue plumage! Listen out for a stuttering start, confident trills becoming faster with a final flourish – like someone falling down the stairs, or a cricketer coming up to bowl. The final flourish is a little ‘diddieoo’ at the end – what a performance! u

Visit for different ways to encourage more birds to visit your garden this summer.

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