Birdsong And What To Do About It

In a previous post, I mentioned how the midday hoot of a tawny owl – and my thwarted attempts to see him – had driven me nuts.  But that was nothing … nothing … compared to the song of a certain bird which has sent me doolally.  This unidentified bird sings a simple refrain, over and over (and over) again but however hard I tried, I couldn’t see the pesky culprit.  I checked birdsong audio files on the websites of the RSPB and BTO to no avail.  I told Jim about it but he couldn’t hear the song – even when I could – and only shook his head, looked at me sadly and gently suggested it existed only in my head.  I clenched my teeth but feared he might be right.  Then, one morning, Jim DID hear it.

corr28

But, his ID suggestion that it was the beep-beep of the Road Runner was unhelpful and met with stony silence and a hard stare.

Great spotted woodpecker

Great spotted woodpecker

I needed proper help – Jim –  and after a quick search online, I found a phone app called BirdUp.  I love BirdUp.  BirdUp is free.*  Hoo.  It is ad-free.  Rah.   And it does what it says it does.  Hoorah.

Blue tit

Blue tit (you knew that)

The app identifies and records birdsong.  I tap the icon, point my phone’s microphone at a particular birdsong and, very often, it tells me which species is singing.  Brilliance.  But … it only works for a selection of British birds; doesn’t like background noise (planes, trains, automobiles and the like); nor a strong breeze blowing across the mic.  Neither can it cope with a chorus of different birds singing at once.  Even so, it has identified several common birds by song alone.  How clever is that?

Goldcrest

Goldcrest

Last week, I was sitting beneath a conifer and BirdUp told me that a high-pitched song above my head was that of a goldcrest.  The app has various built-in, playable bird songs and calls.  I played the goldcrest pre-record and within seconds a hitherto invisible, but now indignant, goldcrest appeared to see off the virtual intruder.

Robin

I don’t really need to tag these, do I?

I did the same with a hidden robin – who promptly showed himself too.  (I stopped at that point.  Birds have quite enough to do at this time of year without teasing from imagined rivals).

Male blackbird 2

No, I think not

But I still didn’t know the singer of that infuriating refrain.  I began to suspect a male blackbird but neither BirdUp nor various websites had recordings of the notes I could hear.   I read up about blackbirds and learnt that they are great mimics: copying common sounds, such as car alarms or phone ring-tones – and a penny clunked to the bottom of an otherwise empty tin.   And then, reader, I saw him.  Sitting high up in a tree, a male blackbird singing that bloody song.  And he isn’t alone: there is at least one, perhaps two or three others, singing from the same sheet across the garden.  Using the app, I recorded the song and, to share my pain and give you a taste of how repetitive it is, I’ve looped it several times.   Here it is:

 

 

It is pretty enough but after you’ve heard it for hours on end, all day long, the charm wanes.  Jim and I still laugh about it … through increasingly fixed grins … though we still don’t know what sound the blackbirds are copying.  Do you?

Male blackbird

(I wasn’t asked to review this app.  I just really like it.  BirdUp by Jon Burn is available at Google Play but, as far as I can tell, not on iTunes).

*As of February 2017, BirdUp is no longer free.

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43 thoughts on “Birdsong And What To Do About It

  1. Said bird is going ‘Hurdy Gurdy’ in the style of a certain chef. You been watching The Muppets again in the garden on your phone rather than doing that strimming? (I am raising one eye brow as I type)

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  2. Lol. I see what you mean. That would drive me crazy, too. There is a wren here (or maybe more than one) that whoops it up on occasion; it is very loud, and very repetitive. I have learned to ignore it unless it starts making noise first thing in the morning . . . cool app, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post as usual. It does sound like it is imitating some kind of alarm or ring tone. I remember watching an Attenborough programme years ago where a mynah-type bird in the Amazon was imitating the sound of the chainsaws it could hear in the distance destroying its forest. So sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When we moved here there was a bird that had a call just like the phone. Utterly infuriating. It was the phone that had to change, the bird is still here. I’ve no idea what it is either. Must get that app!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’ve had a starling copying a police siren and now a blackbird – at home – doing a boy-racer’s car horn. In the 70’s, someone I know, had a bird copying a trim phone and like you often ran to answer. Birds do it own purpose of course, for their own amusement only.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I already dance rather a lot at work, Stacy. Mowing gets pretty boring, so me dancing along behind the push-mower with my head-phones in is a common sight. And a little blackbird-song variety would be just enough to get my feet tapping. D

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  5. Technology can be such a wondrous thing! I would definitely go a bit batty listening to that repetitive song all day. 😀 We have a similar one – the titmouse, that calls, “Peter-peter-peter!” really loudly, esp. at dawn.

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  6. Very interesting, thanks for the app info. By the way, I played the recording and my cat went bonkers, running in to find the bird. Very droll.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. No thoughts about what/who might have inspired this call. But as I viewed the photo of the blackbird with worms stuffed in its beak, it occurred to me if you can keep the bird’s mouth busy, your ears could get a rest. Not sure where you’ll find a bucket of worms on a regular basis, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think the blackbird is simply saying “la de da, la de da, la de da”. He is presumably happy with himself for finding a mate, consummating the marriage and looking forward to his offspring arriving. Ahhhh young love!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Your neighbours have left an old vinyl record playing out on the patio on an old vinyl-record-type record player. Said record has a bad scratch approx. 7 minutes into the second movement of Atterberg’s Symphony No 8 in E Minor. The “clunk” you can hear is the noise of the stylus catching the scratch and jumping back to play that note once more…. Well either that or an old sailor with a wooden leg stomping around behind the shed with a tin whistle.

    And thanks! Now we face the prospect of animations of Charles leaping on and off the trig points he encounters on his walks and recordings of his gruntings as he climbs over fences (with occasional screams if they’re topped with barbed wire)!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’ve been thinking about this too much, John but how on Earth did you know about Hoppy Tom, the one legged, salty old sea dog? And his blasted tin whistle? Spooky. I shall look forward to Charles’ grunts with er, something. D

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  10. Great post, David. And technically truly impressive with animation and edited sound files. I see a gauntlet to be picked up. And lovely pics, too, as ever. Never heard that from a blackbird. Maybe it’s dyslexic or has some other learning disability. Off to find that app.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m pleased someone appreciated how difficult the sound file was to make, Charles. You, Mr Google Map Maestro, will know the fun and games I had downloading some audio software, working out how to use it and then actually looping the file. (I sketched over all the hassle involved somewhat). D

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  11. I think the blackbird is copying something man-made or a person whistling. Apparently they are quite clever and I would believe it as they have mostly outsmarted me in the garden.

    That app is pretty impressive. I have one on my phone for Australian song birds but you have to listen to the recorded calls and figure it out for yourself.

    I have an intense love-hate relationship with blackbirds. The sods are in plaque proportions here in southern Tasmania as a result of some mid 19th century bright spark who imported them as a reminder of home.
    They are officially considered a pest and many people like to get ‘rid’ of them using rat traps and strawberries. I’m a bit of a sook when it comes to living things so despite them driving me absolutely nuts stealing my berry crops and making a huge mess in borders, I just can’t bring myself to exterminate them. So everything is securely netted, borders have edging or box hedge edges etc in an attempt to deal with them.
    I’ve tried to get the sausage dog to chase them but he’s now figured out he’ll never get them so why bother at all.
    I confess to liking their song and we’ve even got an especially scruffy one that follows me around the garden (I recognise him as he has quite a few white feathers) getting to within a few feet away when I am digging beds to scratch up any worms that my digging has exposed.
    But on the whole I would have preferred if they’d have imported robins instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Plague-like blackbirds? Who’d have thought. I can’t say they are much of a nuisance here – other than foraging in fresh compost mulch and casting it all over the lawns. Interesting though and who knows what unforeseen traits robins might develop under that hot sun?

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  12. My first thought is that it’s an imitation of a human whistle. Listen carefully to your neighbours. Aren’t apps clever these days.

    I shall take the opportunity to plug my son’s app, Birds by Colour, which he & his business partner designed in collaboration with the author & illustrator of the book by the same name. You do need to be able to see the bird in question, though.
    https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/birds-by-colour-british-bird/id771864245?mt=8

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Karen, ‘cept there aren’t any neighbours!! Perhaps it’s something I’ve whistled and don’t now recall. Your son’s app looks impressive. Just using an app makes my head spin let alone designing one. D

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  13. Oh, meant to add, in case you didn’t know there’s a similar app called SoundHound, which is handy when you hear a snatch of music on the tv or radio, and want to know what it is. And if you vaguely remember a song from the past, you can sing the bit you remember into it, and it may just recognise it. Or not.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. David

    I have to say I immediately thought blackbird (no, really I did) but I’ve never heard such a dull one. I think it’s imitating a phone ring tone. I often trade tunes (very badly) with the head blackbird in my garden. My whistling is rubbish. He seems to give each offering several seconds scornful consideration, then throws out the sort of fabulous invention you expect from a blackbird. You could try whistling a few interesting phrases to stimulate the imagination, and invite competition. Speaking of competition, your robin looks to be doing his best Robert de Niro ‘You lookin’ at me?’. Very funny. And a goldcrest! Wow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Gill, we had a starling in our last garden which sang a spot-on impersonation of a police car siren, so I did think a starling might be responsible at first. And BirdUp sometimes gets muddled between thrushes and blackbirds – hence my uncertainty. I have tried whistling the refrain but I can’t seem to strike up a conversation. D

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