There are more than 600 bird species in the UK, with an estimated 83 million breeding pairs – down from 102 million half a century ago when reliable population studies began. They form an acoustic backdrop that we often overhear. Test your knowledge of some of them with this birdsong quiz.
The recordings were all made in various locations in the south of England using the BirdNET app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, New York, and the Chemnitz University of Technology, Germany. The identifications are those given by the app. The answers can be found at the bottom of the page.
1. If you’re awoken by a dawn chorus in the UK, it’s likely to be the chattering of these noisy neighbours who are all too happy nesting in eaves and feeding off rubbish in urban environments. Long one of the UK’s most common birds, the species recorded a 71 per cent decline between 1971 and 2008, although its situation seems to have stablised somewhat since.
2. Two species can be heard here, both members of the same family. The males of both species are renowned for their colourful, variegated plumage – and the songs of both are pretty colourful, too.
3. Sometimes called the “mock nightingale” for its rich and varied song, this small, mainly olive-grey warbler is considered a delicacy in some parts of the Mediterranean. It’s slowly been extending its range northwards, and has become a relatively common presence in gardens and woodlands around the UK, as for example here at the top of One Tree Hill in deepest, darkest south London.
4. Sometimes, birds do exactly what it says on the tin. Recorded on a marsh near Benfleet in Essex, the continuous warbling towards the end of this sound clip came from a bed of reeds – so guess what the bird, which visits the south of the UK to breed in summer, is called.
5. It’s an obvious urban setting – a London street, in fact – for this short recording of a squawk that wouldn’t seem out of place in a jungle. And indeed this invader from more tropical climes first set up home in London in the 1970s, probably after escaping from captivity. It has since proved itself supremely able to adapt to colder British climes, and become a regular colourful sight on the city’s streets, a flash of green amid green foliage.
6. (At least) two for the price of one in this recording: the first is named onomatopoeically for its simple call of staccato tones; while the foreground interruption in the second half comes from a species whose name suggests some musical ability.
7. This staccato chirping, emanating from a hole in a tree in a south London park, is not the most obvious sound associated with this striking, largely black and white bird. Though it often makes its presence heard, it is generally surprisingly difficult to locate. Often, it’s the flash of red on the head of the male when it takes flight that gives it away.
8. The UK’s favourite piece of classical music, as voted by listeners to the radio station Classic FM, celebrates the song and flight of this small brown crested bird. Cornfields are one of its favoured habitats – this one was recorded in fields near Maidstone in Kent – and it has seen a dramatic decline in numbers in recent decades thanks to changes in agricultural practices, making it now officially a threatened species.
9. First seen in the UK in 1961, and first known to have bred here in 1972, this bird that’s more at home in central and southern Europe carries the name of an 18th century Italian zoologist. There are thought to be only 2000 breeding pairs of this warbler in the UK, making it by far the most exotic bird in our selection – if those are the right words for a bird described as fairly nondescript looking, and by Wikipedia as “very difficult to see because of its skulking habits”. This one was recorded on the outskirts of Portsmouth.
10. The Latin name of this small, insectivorous bird – probably the UK’s commonest – is the “hole dweller”, owing to its habit of inserting itself into implausibly tiny spaces in its hunt for prey. Its rich, complex and above all very loud song comes as a surprise from one so small.
- House sparrow, Passer domesticus
- Common chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs and European goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis
- Eurasian blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla
- Reed warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
- Ring-necked parakeet, Psittacula krameri
- Chiffchaff, Phylloscopus collybita and song thrush, Turdus philomelos
- Great spotted woodpecker, Dendrocopos major (pictured above)
- Eurasian skylark, Alauda arvenisis
- Cetti’s warbler, Cettia cetti
- Eurasian wren, Troglodytes troglodytes
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