Dawn Chorus Day is coming up and we will be celebrating all the wonderful birds that bring beautiful song into our mornings and reflect on the delightful music nature brings us. RSPB Scotland’s Allie McGregor tells us about some of the sounds of Scotland’s most recognisable species.
The songs and sounds of Scotland’s birds
This may seem like an unrelated note to start on, but I have tinnitus. Lots of people are familiar with tinnitus, when someone experiences sound that has no external source, often a buzzing or humming or similar. For me it is a constant high-pitched tone which drives me dippy. Consequently, I resent total silence, because for me it is anything but total.
How lucky I am, that instead of waking up each day to the piercing noise inside my head, there is a small group of birds who perch on the tree just outside my bedroom window and sing, allowing me to enjoy a moment of peace before I face the day.
While the species below are perhaps not the usual suspects who will wake you up in the morning, they are some iconic species found in Scotland, and I thought it would be interesting to explore the songs they sing, or the sounds they make, whether they be great or grating. I am delighted that we get to be surrounded by the exciting sounds of nature, and I hope we continue to fight to keep it from going silent, because I don’t want to be left with just the high-pitched humming in my head.
Crested tits are usually found in the Cairngorms, staying close to Scots pine forests. They have a very cheery trill which is distinct from the calls of other tits. It has a repeated bubbling advertising-call as well as shorter conversational notes. The crested tit combines these tones for its song with rapidly alternating short sharp ‘zit’ sounds and ‘burrure’ sounds.
Crested tit perched on tree branch. Click the image to learn more about crested tits and hear a recording.
Scotland is an incredible place to see amazing seabirds. I love being by the sea, so despite some of the calls of seabirds seeming less than pleasant, I feel excited when I hear their cries. One of my favourite seabirds is the elegant guillemot. When in a colony, guillemots can make quite a bit of noise. They create some rumbling sounds, and you would be forgiven for thinking they were making fun of you with their repeated ‘ha ha ha ha…’
Group of guillemot. Click this image for facts about guillemot and a video.
There are three species of crossbill in Scotland, but the Scottish crossbill stands out, being UK's only endemic bird species. It is exceptionally tricky to identify due to its close similarity with other crossbill species. It has been described as having its very own Scottish accent, so sometimes its call can be used to pick it out from others. Crossbills call frequently with a repeated ‘glipp’ or ‘tüpp’ sound, with different species of crossbill singing at different pitches.
Crossbill perched in pine tree. Click on this image for recordings of different crossbill species songs.
One of my most exciting birdwatching moments has been seeing a corncrake on Iona. On the day we saw it we had been walking all over the island for HOURS hearing the ‘crex-crex’ and knowing they were nearby, but it wasn’t until about 15 minutes before we had to be back on the ferry that we saw one. They are shy and sneaky birds, so it may often be that you hear them without seeing them. Their call is not the most musical - it is a sharp repeated rasping noise. They are often heard from dusk till morning, but (as with my experience) might call out during the day as well.
For more information, audio, and video click the image of the corncrake above.
You couldn’t possibly discuss iconic Scottish species and skip over the capercaillie! The dawn song of the capercaillie begins with clicking notes which accelerate to a final ‘pop’ kind of noise. This is followed by a hissing noise. At other times, gatherings of males are known to make bellowing and belching noises, while females are known to perch in trees crying out with a repeated cackling call.
For more information, audio, and video, click the image of the capercaillie above.
There’s much beautiful music to be found in nature, and we mustn’t let it fall silent. To help us fight for Scotland’s nature tell the Scottish Government we need a Scottish Environment Act here.
You can also spread the word that we want to let nature sing. Find out more here.
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