We all love birdsong, but did you know that modern life is now negatively affecting it? That’s because all the urban noise confuses birds, and even climate change means some birds wake up at different times, thinking that it’s earlier or later than it really is. This has a knock-on effect (for instance, birds singing to find a mate, may find their breeding patterns disturbed). A few birds are even waking up in the middle of the night to sing, as local light pollution means they think it’s early morning. This is a serious issue, so please turn off unused lights (also good to help prevent birds flying into glass windows).
If you are watching birds, never play sounds on a tape of birdsong. It could attract other species, and put birds in danger.
Birdsong in a Time of Silence is a lyrical celebration of birdsong and a rekindling of a deep passion for nature. As the world went silent in lockdown, something else happened; many people became aware of the spring sounds of the birds around us. This is an uplifting relection on these sounds, and what they mean to us.
From a portrait of the blackbird (the most prominent of the early spring singers) to explorations of how birds sing, it also includes the science behind their choice of song and the varied meanings that people have brought to and from their songs.
Use what talents you possess. The woods would be very silent if no birds sang, except those that sang best. Henry Van Dyke
The Nightingale: Notes on a Songbird is a beautiful and highly reviewed book, that examines the song of this lyrical bird. Each year (as darkness falls upon woodlands), the nightingale heralds the arrival of Spring. For thousands of years, his sweet song has inspired musicians, writers and artists. From Germany, France and Italy to Greece, Ukraine and Korea.
Author Sam Lee is a folk singer (the first to teach at the Royal College of Music) and passionate conservationist. He is a founding member of Music Declares Emergency (where the music industry addresses how to combat the ecological crisis) and for one night in Berkeley Square, led a 1500 crowd for an evening, to celebrating the bird and its environment. The song was streamed through everyone’s phones!
Fascinating Facts about Birdsong
Have you ever wondered how a bird sings, and which birds sing which songs? The only true ‘songbirds’ are warblers, thrushes and finches etc, as they actually learn songs to sing, while most others birds just make ‘native calls’. When they sing differs too. Robins tend to sing all year round, while others (like goldfinches and starlings) prefer to sing a choir. Birds sing in a similar way to us, by squeezing out air (a bit like panpipes). But birds have more intricate lungs than us, so can make different sounds at the same time, which is why they produce such beautiful songs.
And contrary to belief, females often sing as much as the males (but not as loud). Some common birds of song are:
- Blackbirds – they have a short song with a low pitch. Unlike song thrushes, they don’t repeat the chorus over and over!
- Robins like singing a whistly song all year round, often in the morning.
- Despite its tiny size, the wren has a big song – this is the loudmouth of the bird world!
- Song thrushes often sing the first (these are the ones that wake you up!) They repeat their songs over and over, and are often part of the spring dawn chorus. Other birds that join the dawn chorus are black caps (‘chattering’) and chiffchaff (‘named after their sound).
- Great tits and coal tits have all kinds of beautiful sounds.
- Bitterns are herons that make a low sound (like someone blowing over an empty bottle) that carries over several kilometres. It used to be called ‘the bog bumper’ or ‘fenland tiger’!
In Search Of One Last Song is the story of our most endangered birds and the race to save them. Patrick Galbraith sets off on a journey from Orkney to West Wales (and from wild places to post-industrial towns) to meet people at the front line of conservation, trying to save 10 species teeting dangerously close to extinction. He also talks to musicians, writers and poets whose work is inspired by the birds (the nightingale and capercaillie) to create a picture of the immense cultural void that would be left behind, if these birds were gone). Reed cutters and coppicers have long sustained vital habitats for rare birds through their ancient crafts, and he realises a brighter future for birds would be through better cooperation of those caught up in the struggle for their future.
Singing Like Larks opens a rare window onto the ancient song traditions of the British Isles, interweaving mesmerising lyrics, folklore and colourful nature writing to uncover the remarkable relationship between birds and traditional folk music. Birds are loved for their song, and this charming volume takes us on a journey of discovery, to explore why birds appear in so many folk songs. The melodies are rading with type, and lyrics tucked away in archives.
Wild Air sets out to write about birds from a nightjar’s strange churring song on a heath in south England to a lapwing in the Outer Hebrides. He writes of 8 birds he spent more time with. Shearwaters on a mountain overlooking the sea, dippers on a river, skylarks in farmland, ravens in woodland, divers on a loch, lawings on the coast and nightingales in dense scrub. Each has its own distinctive music. The weird gugling sound from a shearwater in its burrow, the joyous skylark and black-throated divers on their loch.
Wrens are one of England’s native birds, that for a tiny bird that weighs the same as a £1 coin, has a very loud song (singing at ten times the power of a cockerel!) Hopping around on their tiny legs, they eat spiders and insects and build nests with a tiny opening to protect their chicks (they use open-fronted and tit nest boxes). Some fly all the way from Scandinavia and Spain to visit us. Male wrens in Europe mate with several females and like robins, are very territorial.