It’s spring, and it’s the time of year when birds start to become more vocal. With the longer days and the warmer weather comes a hive of activity – migrating, territory defending and, of course, breeding. And with all this action comes a tidal wave of sound. Every morning, the air is filled with the sound of birdsong – this is the dawn chorus.
Among all the many varied and wondrous bird sounds, there are some that stand out to our ears for their sheer beauty, virtuosity or even comedy value. Here, are ten of the most incredible sounds that, once encountered, you'll want to hear again and again.
Male bitterns make a low "booming" call when they are looking for a mate. Photo: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Possibly the deepest birdsound in the world, the boom of the 'bog-thumper' is a deep "haroooomph", uttered about 4–5 times in succession from deep within its reedbed home. It is like blowing over the top of a very large milk bottle.
Hear it at: RSPB Ham Wall, Somerset, or RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk
Cranes are being reintroduced to the UK, so their calls will hopefully be heard more frequently. Photo: Nick Upton (rspb-images.com)
The loudest of trumpets, the calls reverberate for miles over their vast marshland homes. Often a pair call in duet, the call of one prompting an immediate response from the other.
Hear it at: RSPB Lakenheath Fen, Suffolk, or RSPB West Sedgemoor, Somerset
In courtship, lapwings tumble around in amazing aerobatic displays piping out their wheezy call. Photo: Graham Goodall (rspb-images.com)
The country name of "peewit" only starts to convey the electric display call that rises and falls like a big dipper while its rounded wings thrum.
Hear it at: RSPB Rainham Marshes, Essex, or RSPB Saltholme, Teesside
In spring, curlews call softly in flight. Photo: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
The bubbling display call builds into a perfect tremolo, the most evocative sound of its moorland breeding haunts.
Hear it at: RSPB Dove Stone, Greater Manchester, or RSPB Geltsdale, Cumbria
Snipe have a rapid alarm call that they use in flight – rushing in a zigzag pattern when disturbed. Photo: Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
In aerial display at dusk, the male climbs high in the sky and then plummets, his outer tail feathers vibrating to create a most curious surging sound like the twang of a heavenly elastic band.
Here it at: RSPB Greylake, Somerset, or RSPB Loch Gruinart, Islay
Curious-looking nightjars are most active as dusk and dawn. In display flights the males will clap their wings together, making a slapping sound. Photo: Grahame Madge (rspb-images.com)
For something other-worldly, make a midsummer pilgrimage after dark to a heathland or open forest for this strangest of churring songs, like nature's engine revving up.
Hear it at: RSPB Arne, Dorset, or RSPB Aylesbeare Common, Devon
The song of the woodlark may be hear day or night, January to August. Photo: Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
This melody is one of the simplest and most pure, a seesawing whistle that gently drops down the scale 'lu-lu lu-lu lu-lu'. However, to add extra artistry, each new verse is set to a different rhythm creating the sweetest variations.
Hear it at: RSPB Farnham Heath, Surrey, or RSPB North Warren, Suffolk
The song of the tree pipit may be given from a perch or in flight as it rises. Photo: Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
8. Tree pipit
This is one song that deserves greater acclaim, for it has an exuberance and joy like no other, linking together perfect trills and long, sliding "weeeee" notes.
Hear it at: RSPB Broadwater Warren, East Sussex, or RSPB Lake Vyrnwy, Powys
The song of the skylark is often given in flight, but sometimes from a perch or from the ground. Photo: Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
Vaughan Williams, in his nation's-favourite composition "Lark Ascending", tried to capture some of the ecstatic outpouring that just seems to flow from this bird without pause as it ascends in fluttering hover over fields and moors.
Hear it at: RSPB Frampton Marsh, Lincolnshire, or RSPB Mersehead, Dumfries & Galloway
The nightingale's powerful song is often heard at night between April and early June, it is also performed during the day but is less obvious. Photo: Graham Goodall (rspb-images.com)
With a justified reputation, this is the most incredible soloist. Don't expect flowing melodies; instead, this is singer with supreme control, creating audacious short verses, each one different, and every now and then throwing in a long, immaculately controlled crescendo of 'tew tew tew' notes that explodes at its conclusion.
Hear it at: RSPB Blean Woods, Kent, or RSPB Highnam Woods, Gloucestershire
Want to learn more about birdsong? Sign up to become an RSPB member and receive Nature’s Home magazine as part of your membership, every issue is packed with expert information on everything from birdsong to mini beast homes. As a member, you’ll also get free access to more than 170 reserves, what better way to get out there and here some spectacular birdsong?
Did you know that the dawn chorus is falling silent? Many of the main choristers we know and love are in decline. Help protect the dawn chorus by downloading the RSPB’s single of birdsong on 26 April, and help get birdsong in the charts!
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