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Birdsong Touches the Heart

Birdsong announces the spring and tells us that summer is closing in. When the blackbird sings the first careful verses after winter, or when the first larks trill joyfully to a blue spring sky, hope for the long dark winter to be over are awakened.
Few experiences in nature warm our hearts as much as the birdsong of spring and summer. Most people actually know some birds solely by their song. How many people can, for example, recall how the cuckoo or the nightingale look? Bird sounds are an important and valuable part of our everyday life and experience of nature. Imagine if the grey sparrow’s chirping from the hedge, the pigeon’s cooing, and the blue tit’s clear trill from the apple tree vanished—life would become much more unfortunate and poor!

A lot of people have difficulty learning and recognising the song and other sounds of the different birds. There is often a myriad of similar sounds which are difficult to connect to a certain species. Of course, the best thing would be to have the help of an experienced and knowledgeable bird enthusiast on a hiking trip. But how many people know such an individual? That’s where this website can help you, and the best part is, that the website won’t get tired of hearing the same question about the sound of the chaffinch’s song again and again.

One must remember, though, that the sounds on the website are just one example from a single individual. In reality, the sounds will vary slightly from bird to bird, so you shouldn’t get too hung up on little differences between the examples and the bird in your garden or forest.
Please note: Do not use the sounds outdoors to lure out the birds as doing so often leads to stress for nesting birds. Furthermore, it may disturb other people’s nature experience.

Song and Sound with Meaning

The song and other sounds birds make always have a special function, and ornithologists and researchers have attempted to interpret and decode their fine musical language for decades. Even though we will never understand for certain what many species mean when using their diverse sound repertoire, several advances have been made with regards to understanding what they are actually saying.
Just as our language is vital to our communication, each bird species has varying sounds with special and definite meanings. The sounds can reach from the most fantastic, beautiful song to the most uncomfortable sounds, and from lonely solo song to the choir or shower from a whole flock of birds.

The musical span of bird song in tones and phrasing is noticeably expressive and versatile. The different sounds are used as an acoustic weapon to challenge or defeat rivals, as a vocal lighthouse proclaiming and shining upon the territory, as a romantic ballad to attract and conquer the favour of the females, as an effective system to warn conspecifics and offspring of threats and dangers, and as information channel to keep in contact with the flock or other individuals.
It can take a long time to learn how to recognise the song and call of the birds, but it’s an eventful, fun, and pleasant pastime. The sounds of many species are very characteristic and easy to recognise, while others are either anonymous or very difficult to recognise, or sound like the sounds of other species. As such, it’s the rule rather than the exception that you must relearn the voices each year when the choir resumes.

A good way of learning the bird voices is to start in the early spring before all of the migratory birds have arrived and the trees bloom. Start by learning the regular birds’ voices. If you can recognise the voices of the tits, the nuthatches, and the woodpecker, the confusion in the sounds of the forest will be lessened. You will already be able to recognise some species, and can concentrate on the new and unknown sounds.
It is also a good idea to try to understand the structure and frequency of the different birds’ song. Do the birds vary the details in the song, or is the verse repeated robotically in the same way? Does the tone raise or fall during the verse, or is it more or less at the same height? Does the singer hold short or long breaks between the verses? All these details help you get an impression of which bird is singing in the treetops.
It’s also a good idea to write down the first associations you get when you listen to an unknown song in nature. Likewise, it helps to note down the tone, structure, and strength of the song.

Songs and Calls

The songs and calls of the birds are some of the best ways to distinguish the different species. Most species may even be determined solely by their call or song, and a lot of species are easier to recognise by their sound than by looking for them. This is especially true for shy species or ones who live in reed beds in damp areas. The bird sounds can be separated into two main groups: Songs and calls.

The song is often melodious and can be long and repetitive. Normally, the song is performed by males to mark and defend the territory, and to attract one or more females. Sometimes the song is reinforced by a mating display where the bird beats its wings or sings in a so-called song flight. The song is characterised by the individual, and thus certain males from a lot of species are better at singing than other competing males. Birds can also sing with a dialect, and hence geographical variation occurs.
Some species are good at mimicking and may add all kinds of sounds from the surroundings or imitate birds that they have heard. The song can also reinforce the bond between a couple. In some instances, the female will sing too, and sometimes the couple will sing a duet.
Researchers have discovered, that species who sing and move around a lot in their territory try to give competing males of the same species the impression that this particular area is inhabited by more than one male, and that conspecifics should hence give up their attempt at settling nearby.
Previously, the term song was only used in connection with passerines. That means small birds (who are commonly called song birds). Today, the term song is used with regards to other species which would traditionally not have been considered to have any kind of song, but rather a playing or territorial sound (which has the function of the song). An example is the bubbling sound of the black grouse.

The calls consist of a large group of sounds which the birds use year-round, and which can as such often be heard. The different sounds are often used in different situations, but the same sound can also be used in different situations, for example as contact and flight call:

- Luring call is used in a narrow sense to lure out a bird of the same species.
- Contact call is used between individuals or to keep the individuals of a flock together. There is a smooth transition between the luring call and the contact call.
- Flight call is used when the bird takes off or flies, and has the same purpose as the luring and contact call.
- Alarm call is an expression of insecurity and unrest due to a possible, but not always identified danger. It is often expressed quietly.
- Warning call warns about an obvious danger at the nest or during the search for food when an enemy, for example a predator, appears. It is often loud.
- Begging sound is used by the young to beg for food from their parents. Sometimes it can also be used by the female to the male. In the case of the sparrow hawk and the long-eared owl, the begging sounds of the young can be widely heard.
- Other sounds are used for e.g. feuds, searching for food, and mating.
- The sound of the wingbeats originates from the beating of the wings in the air and is so special for certain species that they can be distinguished based on it alone. This is true in the case of, for example, the mute swan and the goldeneye.
- Drumming the beak against a dry branch is used by most woodpeckers as a substitute for song.
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