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One of the joys of spring is the burst of bird song it brings, but telling birds apart by sound alone can be tricky for beginners. Start by learning the repertoire of some of the UK's most familiar songsters and you'll soon get your ear in.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Song

A silvery, crystal song that becomes more wistful during the winter months

Call

Produces a rapid, urgent 'tic' call when alarmed

Best time to hear

Can be heard all year round, but especially at dusk. Artificial lighting can encourage it to sing long into the evening

Audio: Andrew Harrop / xeno-canto.org

Great tit (Parus major)

Song

Clear and repetitive 'tea-cher, tea-cher, tea-cher'

Calls

Has a range of calls that can be difficult even for seasoned birdwatchers to identify

Best time to hear

Begins singing in early spring as buds begin to burst

Audio: Stuart Fisher / xeno-canto.org

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)

Song

A loud burst of song with consistent phrases, including a tell-tale machine gun rattle towards the end

Call

A loud, rapid 'tititic' when alarmed

Best time to hear

Can be heard all year round but especially in spring

Audio: Mike Ball / xeno-canto.org

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

Song

Says its name with a lively, repeated 'chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff, chiff-chiff-chaff'

Call

Contact calls between pairs are short 'it' sounds

Best time to hear

Begins singing as early as February after returning to the UK on migration

Audio: Dave Curtis / xeno-canto.org

Willow warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

A melancholy, descending song of falling notes

Call

Soft 'hoo-eet' sound

Best time to hear

Listen for them from late March and early April once they've returned from sub-Saharan Africa

 

Audio: Tony Fulford / xeno-canto.org

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

Song

Short and fast descending song that ends with 'diddieoo', or repetitive, insistent single notes known as the chaffinch's rain song

Calls

Contact call is an abrupt 'pink, pink' sound

Best time to hear

Can be heard throughout spring and summer

Audio: Dave Curtis / xeno-canto.org

Blackbird (Turdus merula)

Song

Rich and mellow with a languid pace and short pauses between phrases

Call

Scolding, harsh outburst when alarmed and often delivered in flight

Best time to hear

Typically heard on long summer evenings

Audio: Frank Lambert / xeno-canto.org

Song thrush (Turdus philomelos)

Song 

Variety of short, high-pitched phrases, usually repeated two or three times in quick succession

Call

Flight call is a sharp 'tsip'

Best time to hear

Males begin singing as early as January, particularly in early morning

Audio: Bram Piot / xeno-canto.org

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Song

A loud and rapid 'twit-twit-twit-twit' or slower 'sirr-sirr-sirr'

Call

Series of harsh sounds much like the song but which come closer together when excited

Best time to hear

Can be heard throughout the year

Audio: Nick Talbot / xeno-canto.org

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Song

Light and twittery song with delicate phrases 

Call

Produces various calls, some fluttery and others shrill, particularly when travelling in groups 

Best time to hear

Listen for them from late April

Audio: Stuart Fisher / xeno-canto.org

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

Song

Building notes that fall suddenly away in a wheeze, famously said to sound like 'little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeeese'

Call

Various, including 'twick' sounds and a thin 'see' when alarmed

Best time to hear

Heard singing from hedgerows throughout spring and summer

Audio: Tony Whitehead / xeno-canto.org

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