I love listening to the birds. For many years I’ve not know who I was listening too although I can know pick out more than I used to. Last year I was introduced to Jon Young’s introduction to the five voices of the birds. Rather than focus on who it is he asks ‘What are they saying?’ This is so much more fun to try and work out by yourself especially if you don’t have an expert on hand. What sort of mood are they in? It will be different depending on whose voice you can hear, but the question is what are they saying?
For the little song birds there are in general five voices. As I listened to Jon Young explaining them I tried to remember by counting them off on my fingers. That’s when I realised my fingers held the key to my memory;
Thumbs up, everything is OK. This is sometimes described as the baseline. The happy song, chirping, the noise of harmony. Different birds will sound different but the relaxed unstressed nature will sound the same. This voice might be used for marking out territories but there’s certainly no suggestion anyone is going to threaten that territory or that the bird feels any threat.
Press the button! ALARM ALARM! This is the finger you use to point, to press the alarm button. The finger of panic! That’s basically what this voice is saying. If you are sitting quiet and still and the alarm call starts you know something else is out there moving and creating this disturbance, a cat a fox or a hawk maybe. If you are trying to sneak quietly through the woods, this voice will give you away. You will most likely hear different birds giving off the alarm at the same time.
Terry Tallest finger, for the terri-torial voice. If you have ever seen too birds having a ‘ding-dong’, typically in spring, it will be two birds of the same species, fairly close to each other having a go. It might sound a bit like an alarm call at times but if all the other birds are relaxed then it’s a territorial dispute. There’s another way this finger might help you remember that this is the aggressive voice.
Ring Finger- Companion Calls. This is the sound of an old married couple,a mated pair, chatting away as they go about their business. First one, then the other, checking in with one another. If one doesn’t reply you’ll hear the first become a bit more frantic until the other replies. You sometimes hear this with feeding flocks in the winter time too.
Baby Finger- Begging calls. The poor harassed parents spend spring and early summer going back and forth while the baby sits tight in the nest shouting ME ME ME ME ME. If you get too close to the nest they go quiet but the slightest suggestion a parent is on hand with food, off they go again. ME ME ME MEME!
The more you listen out for these voices the more you will be able to tune in to what is happening beyond what you can see. The more you investigate the causes of the voices the more you come to know what the birds mean when they raise their voices. You might hear the babies missing the alarm calls and putting themselves in danger. You might hear the alarms are different for different threats. You might hear all sorts of interesting ‘conversations’.