Wildlife Column: Birdsong rising as the weather warms

Sheffield weather expert Professor Ian Rotherham.
Sheffield weather expert Professor Ian Rotherham.

Throughout winter there are two birds which continue singing – the robin with its ‘squeaky wheelbarrow that needs oiling’ sound and the rattle of the dunnock.

The reason that both these species continue to sing is that they hold territory throughout the year whereas many birds, like the tits for example, move away from breeding areas and form winter flocks.

Dunnock

Dunnock

Song is the key to a successful territorial stake and so this is the imperative to keep singing. For the robin the winter and spring / summer songs are slightly different. The dunnock’s rattling ‘song’ seems pretty much the same throughout the year, and whilst considered rather limited and boring by many, serves as a reminder of good things to come.

The dunnock is in fact a particularly interesting little bird that often goes ‘under the radar’ with its non-distinct grey and brown plumage and slightly skulking almost mouse-like behaviour.

Their short lives are focussed on defending their territories and their partners – a troublesome matter when both sexes have multiple mates and pair up mostly at the drop of a hat! So their continuous rattling melodies are a consequence of a hectic lifestyle.

If a rival intruder turns up though, the dunnocks can become very agitated; I had one that kept seeing its own reflection in a mirror I had in the garden and displayed persistently at its own image. The problem of course, was that as the bird became more strident in its display, so did its mirror-image rival.

The behavioural trait would be for the less dominant male to back down but in this case it didn’t. The eventual solution was for me to move the mirror. 

For several weeks now, other birds have been singing as well; with blackbirds and song thrushes quite vocal since around Christmas. Blue tits, coal tits, and great tits are heard in gardens, parks, and around woodlands with the characteristic and repeated ‘see-saw’ calls of the latter so typical of spring.

Blue tits mix churrings with insistent ‘tsee-tsee-tsee’ as they excitedly prospect around possible nest-holes; and the coal tit produces a high-pitched ‘zee-zee’.