Close-up of a yellow and black bird with white cheeks singing in a tree

Great tits (Parus major) have a repetitive, easily recognisable two-note song © Bachkova Natalia/

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Birdsong identification for beginners: 20 common songs and calls

Whether you live in the city or the countryside, the constant chorus of birds is a reminder of how much wildlife there is outside your window. Although the cast of characters depends on the time of year, there are usually plenty of species waiting in the wings for their big solo.

Listen to the songs and calls of the most common garden birds in the UK and get tips on how to learn to recognise these familiar sounds.

  • Song or call: what's the difference?

    Bird song is probably the most familiar type of bird sound. Songs are the complex and tuneful vocalisations made by many garden bird species throughout the day, especially in the morning.

    Songs are more often - but not always - sung by male birds marking out territory to deter rivals and attract the attention of nearby females. Songs are also thought to advertise a male bird's suitability to potential mates.

    An adult starling feeds two juveniles

    The sight of a starling (Sturnus vulgaris) feeding its chicks suggests a male successfully won a female's attention with its tunes earlier in the breeding season. Female starlings apparently favour more complex songs, which possibly indicate the male is older and more experienced. © Keith Elwood (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

    Bird calls, on the other hand, are shorter, more functional sounds used for specific types of communication. For example, short, piercing calls are often used as alarms, loud chirps help individuals maintain contact with a flock and the begging tweets of chicks demand parental attention. Other sounds are used for communication during flight.

    Although most bird species around the world make some sort of call - except adult storks, pelicans and some vultures - fewer produce songs. Those that do are known as songbirds and include families such as finches, warblers and sparrows.

When do birds sing?

If you listen carefully in a garden, park or green space in the UK you can generally hear birdsong all year. But the intensity and species singing will vary depending on the time of year and hour of the day.

  • The dawn chorus

    Springtime brings a sound familiar to many light sleepers and early risers: the dawn chorus. This intense period of birdsong, which starts about an hour before sunrise, begins around March and continues to July, corresponding with the mating season.

    Species including blackbirds, robins, wood pigeons, wrens, chaffinches, blackcaps, song thrushes, great tits, sparrows and goldfinches follow a regular set list each morning.

  • Night-time bird song

    It's also not unusual to hear birdsong throughout the night. Between April and August, you might think you are hearing a nightingale singing 'of summer in full-throated ease', like poet John Keats wrote in his ode to this bird. Actually, you are much more likely hearing a robin, a more common bird in Britain whose nocturnal song is on the increase, possibly due to street lighting. Robins can be heard all year, except when they're moulting.

    Nightingales, while unmistakably beautiful-sounding, are much rarer in Britain, found only in parts of southern and central England during the spring and summer.

    A small, brown bird sings from a bush

    A nightingale's (Luscinia megarhynchos) song consists of a delightful mix of whistles, trills and gurgles. But if you hear a tuneful bird at night, nowadays it's more likely to be a robin. © Raldugina Oksana/

    Listen to the nightingale's song and discover more audio recordings of nightingales on xeno-canto.

    It's not only at night when robins take centre stage: the nation's favourite bird also sings through the winter months when other species fall silent. Listening out for robins in winter is a great way to start trying to identify them by their sounds, since fewer other birds are singing at this time of year.

Tips on learning to identify birdsongs and bird calls

1. Pick your spot. Choose somewhere easily accessible. Gardens and parks can be excellent spots, especially near fruiting trees and bushes, but street trees or any dense foliage can also attract songsters. Put up seed, nut and fat feeders if you have your own outdoor space, and see who turns up for breakfast. They're likely to sing nearby.

2. The early bird catches the worm. Early morning and the hour before sunset are the times of day when bird song is at its most intense.

3. Listen then look. Focus on the most frequent calls you hear - identifying birds is easier when you are only dealing with a few species. Once you have learned the most common sounds it will help you differentiate them from the less common. When you have noticed where a particular call is coming from, try and get a sighting of the bird to help you identify it. Most of the birds mentioned here will sing from a perch - a tree branch, fence, rock or roof - rather than from the ground.

4. Use mnemonics and rhymes. These techniques for remembering sounds will help you differentiate the songs and calls of different species. We've included some examples below, but you might find making up your own helps you to remember them even better. Also think about the rhythm, tone and pitch of the sounds. Does the bird sound cheerful, cross or mournful? Does it sound relaxed or in a rush to get through its tune?

5. Keep it simple. Don't try to identify too many birds at once when you are learning. Focus on one or two each day. Listen to recorded examples online and then come back to the area to listen again. Bird song identification apps can help get you started if you're struggling to see the singing bird.

  • Bird song apps

    There are a growing number of apps that can help you identify the songs of UK bird species. They can be a great starting point when you are learning. Smart Bird ID and BirdNET are free tools. Others such as Warblr and ChirpOMatic are available to buy.

    However, bird song apps are not perfect and can get confused by background noise and multiple feathered singers. After some practice, you are likely to find that your own ears and brain are more effective.

Ten birdsongs and calls for beginners

Great tit

A yellow and black bird with white cheeks sings from a tree branch

A great tit (Parus major) singing. In winter, great tits gang up with blue tits and other birds to form flocks looking for food. © Petr Ganaj/

Great tits have an iconic, high-pitched and squeaky 'see-saw-see-saw' song which makes it one of the easiest birds to identify by sound. Alternating between two notes of different pitch, it sounds a bit like a bicycle pump being used. It's often written as 'teacher, teacher'.

Listen to the great tit's song and discover more audio recordings of great tits on xeno-canto.

Blue tit

A small yellow and blue bird with a white face and black eye band sings from a lichen-covered branch

A blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) singing © John Navajo/

Blue tits have a short, trilling song which isn't particularly tuneful, usually with a 'sispi si-hi-hi-hi-hi' or 'tsee-tsee-tsee-chu-chu-chu' structure. Two or three whistled notes lead on to a lower pitch trill, which varies in length.

Listen to the blue tit's song and discover more audio recordings of blue tits on xeno-canto.


A dark-coloured bird with irridescent feathers sings from a perch

A starling (Sturnus vulgaris) singing © Soru Epotok/

Starlings produce a truly unique song. Listen for whistles, whines, cracking notes and squawks - more like experimental electronic music than the sweet pop melodies of some of their peers. Their mixes last a while too, sometimes a minute or more for each song.

Listen to the starling's song (starts after 13 seconds) and discover more audio recordings of starlings on xeno-canto.

House sparrow

A small brown,  grey and black bird on a tree stump

A male house sparrow (Passer domesticus) chirping © Vishnevskiy Vasily/

When it comes to singing, house sparrows might place in the 'top marks for effort' category of Britain's Birds Got Talent. They have an unsophisticated song of simple chirps, but they have staying power and often sing for several minutes.

Listen to the house sparrow's song and discover more audio recordings of house sparrows on xeno-canto.


A red-breasted bird sings from a tree where leaves are starting to grow

A robin (Erithacus rubecula) singing © Pefkos/

Robins have a delicate song with warbling notes, whistles and clear pauses. It is sometimes written as 'twiddle-oo, twiddle-eedee, twiddle-oo twiddle'. In the autumn and winter, the song is soft and mournful, becoming clearer and more powerful in the spring and summer months. You're also likely to hear it making a 'tic' sound, often repeated over and over, which is one of its calls.

Listen to the robin's song and its 'tic' call, and discover more audio recordings of robins on xeno-canto.

Wood pigeon

Two large, mainly grey birds, each with a pinkish breast and a white strip on its neck

A pair of wood pigeons (Columba palumbus) © Jerzystrzelecki (CC BY 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

You really can't mistake the low-pitched cooing of a wood pigeon's song. With a five-note structure, the sound can seem strained and desperate, in the rhythm of 'I DON'T want-to-go, I DON'T want-to-go'. This is the UK's largest and commonest pigeon, and alongside its song you will often hear the loud, clattering sound of its wings when it takes flight.

Listen to the wood pigeon's song and discover more audio recordings of wood pigeons on xeno-canto.

Song thrush

A brown bird with a speckled breast singing from a tree

A song thrush (Turdus philomelos) singing © Levina de Ruijter (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Song thrushes have one of the easier songs to identify. Although they have a varied repertoire, they repeat each of their short phrases up to three times before moving on to a completely different one, which no other common birds do. Their notes are confident, powerful and less mellow than those of a blackbird. You're most likely to hear song thrushes singing from March to July, but they sometimes begin singing much earlier, even in late autumn if it's mild.

Listen to the song thrush's song and discover more audio recordings of song thrushes on xeno-canto.


A black bird with a yellow beak singing from an evergreen fir tree

A male blackbird (Turdus merula) singing ©Ondrej Chvatal/

With a beautifully mellow song, blackbirds deliver low-pitched, flute-like verses which often close with a squeaky twiddle. Like song thrushes that will sometimes begin singing in late autumn, blackbirds can also start singing early, in winter. Their songs are also similar, but the blackbird's are less repetitive.

Blackbirds also produce a shrill, staccato alarm call as well as a more rapid rattling sound.

Listen to the blackbird's song and discover more audio recordings of blackbirds on xeno-canto.


A large black and white bird perched on a fence, calling

A magpie (Pica pica) calling © DF Bridgeman/

It is very likely you will have heard magpies chatting in the neighbourhood. They have a distinctive rattling call which is powerful and abrasive, as well as a 'ker-chock' contact call.

Listen to more audio recordings of magpies on xeno-canto.

Collared dove

Two pale pinkish-brown birds with black neck collars perch close together on a fence post

A pair of collared doves (Streptopelia decaocto). Collared doves are relatively recent UK residents, having arrived here in the 1950s from the Middle East via Europe. © Dhaval Vargiya (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons

The cooing of the collared dove is similar to the sound of the wood pigeon but more persistent (lasting 10-20 seconds to the wood pigeon's 6-10 seconds) and with shorter, three-note 'I-LOOOVE-you' phrasing - appropriate, as they're often spotted in pairs. They are paler, smaller and less common than their woodland-dwelling counterparts.

Listen to the collared dove's song and discover more audio recordings of collared doves on xeno-canto.

  • Ten slightly trickier birdsongs and calls to learn


    A tiny brown bird singing from a moss-covered perch

    A wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) singing © Michal Pesata/

    The wren is the belter of the songbird world: think Whitney Houston bumped up a few octaves. Its powerful trills are high-pitched, confident and incredibly loud for its tiny size. Listen out for a phrase that sounds like a machine gun - it's a giveaway for this bird.

    Listen to the wren's song and discover more audio recordings of wrens on xeno-canto.


    A small bird with a blue-grey cap and pinkish-brown cheeks and breast, perched on a branch singing

    A male chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) singing © Bachkova Natalia/

    Listen out for the descending scale of a chaffinch's song, which ends in a flourish: 'chip chip chip chip chip, chooipchyoo'. Although the song only lasts two or three seconds, chaffinches will often repeat it enthusiastically many times per minute - and boy, will they keep on going!

    Listen to the chaffinch's song and discover more audio recordings of chaffinches on xeno-canto.

    Coal tit

    A small grey bird with a black throat and cap and white cheeks, perched on an evergreen tree branch singing

    A coal tit (Periparus ater) singing. Unlike great tits, coal tits lack a stripe down their front. Blue tits are distinguished by a blue cap. © Lukas Zdrazil/

    The coal tit is quite shrill. It has a similar repetitive two-note song to the great tit, but it is faster and higher pitched. It sounds like it is excitedly calling 'It's me, it's me, it's me, it's me'.

    Listen to the coal tit's song and discover more audio recordings of coal tits on xeno-canto.


    Three small birds with red faces and yellow stripes on their wings, perched eating seeds

    A flock of goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) eating burdock in winter © Anton MirMar/

    Goldfinches have a light and twittering song, with a rapid succession of notes that they can't seem to get out quite fast enough. Their call sounds a bit like 'tickle-it'.

    Listen to the goldfinch's song and discover more audio recordings of goldfinches on xeno-canto.


    A small, greenish bird with grey wings with a yellow stripe, perched on a branch

    A male greenfinch (Chloris chloris) © Martin Kunz (CC BY 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons

    The trills of a greenfinch's song are bolder than those of its close relative, the goldfinch, and frequently include a distinctive wheezing sound.

    Listen to the greenfinch's song and discover more audio recordings of greenfinches on xeno-canto.


    A small grey bird with a black cap, perched on a branch singing

    A male blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) singing. The cap of the female is chestnut-coloured. © Erni/

    Blackcaps have a sweet, flute-like song which, together with a more extensive UK distribution that extends into Scotland, explains why this bird is sometimes referred to as the northern nightingale. Its song has been compared to a sped-up robin.

    Listen to the blackcap's song and discover more audio recordings of blackcaps on xeno-canto.


    A small bird with mottled light and dark brown feathers, perched on a thorny stem singing

    A dunnock (Prunella modularis) singing © SanderMeertinsPhotography/

    With a short and fast song with phrases that usually last two or three seconds, dunnocks produce a rather flat warbling sound. It is less sweet than a robin's song, and lower-pitched and less powerful than the blasts of a wren. Males usually sing from January to July, often from low perches.

    Listen to the dunnock's song and discover more audio recordings of dunnocks on xeno-canto.

    Long-tailed tit

    A small pinkish-white bird with a black tail and wings, perched on a branch

    A long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus). Their numbers in the UK are increasing and they are now a relatively common sight in gardens, particularly in winter. © Tobyphotos/

    This little round fluffball rarely sings, but when you do hear it you might pick up on a 'see-see-see' structure. Long-tailed tits still make a racket though, often gathering in flocks of around two dozen. You may find it easier to identify their alarm call which is a 'sirrut' sound.

    Listen to the long-tailed tit's song and discover more audio recordings of long-tailed tits on xeno-canto.


    The top half of a black bird with a silvery neck and piercing blue eyes

    A jackdaw (Coloeus monedula) © Warrieboy (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons

    The calls of jackdaws range from a hard staccato 'tchack' or 'jack', to a slow persistent squawking sound. These birds are well adapted to living in urban areas, often nesting in chimneys and buildings.

    Listen to jackdaw calls and discover more audio recordings of jackdaws on xeno-canto.

    Feral pigeon

    Two grey birds with iridescent purple and green neck feathers and black wing markings

    A pair of pigeons (Columba livia domestica) © Fercast/

    Feral pigeons are descendants of domestic pigeons that have returned to the wild. They are one of the world's most successful species at adapting to life in urban environments and are abundant in cities all over the world. They are often quite quiet, but they make deep, rumbling cooing sounds when they're trying to attract a mate.

    Listen to a pigeon cooing and discover more audio recordings of this bird on xeno-canto.

  • Bonus bird

    Ring-necked parakeet (also called rose-ringed parakeet)

    Two bright-green birds with pinkish-red beaks in a tree

    Two ring-necked parakeets (Psittacula krameri) © Rolf E Staerk/

    You would be forgiven for doing a double-take if you have ever spotted a bright green parakeet in the UK or heard one screeching as it flies overhead. A large population of non-native ring-necked parakeets is now resident and breeding, mainly in London and southeast England, but the birds are also present in other parts of the country, even as far north as Glasgow and Edinburgh. They have a repetitive, squawking and chatter-like call.

    Their UK population was estimated to contain more than 31,000 individuals and 8,600 breeding pairs by 2013.

    Listen to the ring-necked parakeet's call and discover more audio recordings of this parakeet on xeno-canto.

    Find out about the arrival and spread of ring-necked parakeets in the UK >

Ready to test your skills?