Tweet Tuesday

My name is Gill Thompson and I’m the Ecologist at the Northumberland National Park.  Spring is full of bird song and this year more than most lots of people are listening to it and appreciating it. I am always asked to identify birds at this time of year from their song and try to give people ways of remembering them.

Although I can’t do any dawn chorus walks at the moment we are planning to do a series of blogs, social media posts and recordings to help you identify things you may be hearing in your gardens and in your local area.  I have been out early in the morning recording some of my local sounds and will share them with you.

Northumberland National Park Ecologist Gill Thompson holding a pair of binoculars

Why do birds sing? In general male birds (and it is mainly males that sing although females call and make sounds too) sing to either attract a mate or defend a territory –  in effect ‘Come here’ or ‘Get lost’!

This is at its most intense at this time of year as birds are pairing up for the breeding season and feeding to get in good condition.  Birds sing more in the morning as it gets light and sometimes in the evening.  This is the time of day when the wind is often lightest so sound travels well and they can do it before it gets fully light for feeding (and avoiding predators).

Getting up early really is worth it at this time of year as you can hear and see so many more birds.  I often find it hard to get out of bed, but then am really glad I did, wandering around when there is no-one there, the sound is amazing and the light really different – oh and often a great way of having two breakfasts as well!


So let’s start with a ‘little brown job’: the dunnock.  If you have been getting out on walks around your local area you may have heard a sweet song coming from a hedge or bush.  Sometimes a small brown bird pops up and sits on the top of the hedge and sings away.

This is a dunnock, and at the moment they seem to be everywhere around me.  I love this time of year as migrant birds are starting to arrive from warmer climes, but some of our residents (birds that stay through the winter) can be very tuneful and worth looking at too.

Dunnock Song

Listen here


Dunnocks can often be seen in the garden on the ground, under feeders and hedge bottoms, sometimes moving almost mouse-like. They can appear drab brown, but on closer inspection streaks can be seen and they have a greyish head, I think sometimes looking slightly purple. When about a year old their eye turns a red/brown – if you get a chance to have a look through binoculars you can see this.

Although it will be the male singing on top of the hedge (leading to their old name, hedge sparrow) research has shown they don’t form traditional pairs of males and females but can raise young with a various combinations of the sexes in polygamous arrangements.  Have a look and listen for these little brown birds next time you are outside – they might surprise you!


Song Thrush

The song thrush is one of 6 thrushes we regularly see in Britain and one you are most likely to see in the garden at this time of year, together with the blackbird.

Song Thrush

It has a warm chestnut brown back and wings, and a cream breast with black spots or upward pointing arrows. The call is very loud and can start early in the morning and carry on late into the evening. It is always a series of repeated phrases and can carry quite far. Song thrushes forage on the ground eating worms and other invertebrates.

They are known to use stones as anvils to smash snail shells to get to the meat inside. It could be mistaken for the mistle thrush, but this is larger and more grey/brown with rounder spots continuing up on to the neck. The mistle thrush song is more like a short blackbird song.

A Mistle Thrush

Mistle Thrush by Ray Browning


More often heard than seen, the wren is one of our smallest birds and the most numerous in Britain (an estimated 11 million pairs).


Their song is very loud and explodes out of dense cover. It is a long, sweet phrase with trills often heard from low in a hedge or bush, but sometimes the bird perches up and you can see the orange inside its beak.

They are brown all over but this varies with lots of fine barring across the feathers and a pale stripe over the eye. They have a slim, sharp beak for eating insects and the upward cocked tail is very distinctive.

They live in a wide variety of habitats across the country from gardens, woodlands, moorlands and mountains. It is thought that birds living in the north are a hardy sub-species able to cope with our cold winters.

Blue Tit

Bright blue and yellow, acrobatic blue tits can be seen on feeders and their shrill calls heard in the garden.

Blue Tit

A common sight in gardens, parks and woodlands the blue tit is one of Britain’s most colourful and charismatic birds. Adults have a blue head and dark eye stripe with white cheeks, underneath they are yellow with blue wings.

Adults can raise the feathers on their heads in a small crest. Young often look more yellow on the face. They have a variety of calls which are often quite repetitive and shrill and they make a cross scolding sound when agitated.
Listening to one in the garden the other day it sounded like (a high pitched version of)the beginning of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony – duh duh duh duuuurh!

They nest in holes and will use nest boxes to raise large broods of chicks. They can be acrobatic on bird feeders and on the ends of branches looking for caterpillars and other insects.

Great Tit

Have you got a squeaky wheelbarrow in your garden?! Listen out for the great tit.

Great Tit

The great tit can be seen often in gardens and woodlands and will regularly come to bird feeders. It is a large tit, bigger than blue tit and coal tit.

It has a large glossy black cap (no white on the back of the neck) white cheek and a yellow belly. Its back is green and the wings blue/grey with a white bar. The males and females are similar but can be told apart as the male often has a bigger, unbroken black strip down the front, particularly obvious at this time of year.

They make a variety of calls and songs, even mimicking other birds, but the most recognisable is the ‘squeaky wheelbarrow’ song, which can be very piercing or ringing.

Coal Tit

The coal tit is small and agile, identify it by the white patch on the back of its neck.

Coal Tit

The coal tit is a small, agile bird often seen hanging upside down on the ends of branches and feeders.  It is the smaller relation to the great tit and has a similar black cap and white cheek, but its most recognisable feature is a white patch on the back of the neck.

It has no yellow on the belly and only a slight green tinge to its back making it look much less colourful overall. The song of the coal tit, often given from the top of a tree, is similar to a great tit and can be confusing, but it is faster and it slides between the notes – less shrill and squeaky, more smooth.


The wheezing song of a greenfinch is an easy sound for beginners to learn.


It sounds a bit like a grass strimmer; grass is green and so is the finch! Greenfinches are chunky finches with a pale, heavy beak which they use to open seeds.  The males have a yellowy green breast and darker green back with slightly grey head.

They have yellow edges to their wings and show yellow on the wings and tail in flight.  Females are more grey/brown but also have a yellow edge to the wing visible when perched. They sing from the tops of trees or bushes and as well as the wheezy song they have a totally different trilling, tinkling song heard at the end of the recording.


The slightly harsh song of the chaffinch is a familiar sound in gardens and the wider countryside.


The slightly harsh song of the chaffinch is a familiar sound in gardens and the wider countryside. The song is not very melodic, but a repeated descending scale which can sound a bit like a machine gun at the end.  Males and females look quite different; males have blue/grey heads, pink breasts and cheeks and a distinctive white wing bar whereas females are buff brown with a smaller white wing bar. A pale nape and no streaks on the back, together with the white wing bar will help you tell females from female house sparrows.


One of our most colourful birds, the goldfinch also has a beautiful liquid bubbling song.


The bubbling flight call of the goldfinch as they bob up and down overhead is a lovely sound.

Their song is a liquid mixture of these bubbling notes, with trills and twittering. The goldfinch is one of the most colourful British birds with a red face, white cheek and black and yellow wings seen in flight.

The black tail and wing ends have white spots which can be seen when perched. Its beak is narrower than other finches to enable it to extract seeds from thistles and teasels.

They breed in woodland, gardens and scrub where they build a small cup-shaped nest in a tree or bush. Some birds are resident all year, but other migrate to France and Spain in the winter.


Every Tuesday we will be sharing a new bird song from Gill on our social media channels. You can follow along using the hashtag #OutdoorsIndoors.

Feel free to tag us in any recordings you make for us to share with our audience.