Published on May 9th, 2017 | by Michelle Roper-Shaw
The Songbirds Are Singing
The greatest glory of British birds is their song. An unwinding chorus starts in January and swells to a peak at the beginning of May.
Birdsong predates humanity and is perhaps the source of our own musicality. The more you listen, the richer it gets.
The Songbirds Special Stamps celebrate some familiar and some not so familiar songbirds that we love to see in our gardens each year. They were released on Thursday, just in time for International Dawn Chorus Day which was celebrated last weekend.
A stunning Songbirds Presentation Pack reveals some beautiful photography to accompany the ten special stamps that depict the songbirds. You can explore where you might find each one and when. Also, you will learn each individual song so you can listen out for their distinctive voices. The detailed information on each songbird has been written by Simon Barnes, a journalist and author of several books on birds and bird watching.
1st Class: Great Tit
Resident in the UK year round, great tits are among the first birds to welcome the spring. They do so with varied songs that are strident, vigorous, monotonous and unmistakable. Their most common song consists of loud, much-repeated syllables often transcribed as ‘teacher-teacher-teacher’.
This unique sound has also been compared to the sound of a squeaky pump in action. Great tits like mature trees, parks and gardens and thrive in suburbia. They are bold birds with yellow bellies divided by a black stripe. This is a bird that draws attention to itself.
1st Class: Wren
If you hear a song of astonishing volume from round about knee-high, chances are that it’s a wren. It seems barely possible for so small a creature to make such a din. The song is hard and dry and rattled, and it is usually marked by a prolonged trill at the end.
However, when a recording of it is slowed down, it becomes curiously melodic. Wrens like scrub and cover close to the ground and can be found most often in Scotland. When they come briefly into sight, their cocked tail is a visual signature.
1st Class: Willow Warbler
The first willow warbler tends to announce the arrival of the high spring, although their numbers are declining in England. These birds fly in from western Africa to spend the summer with us, a lengthy journey for such a small bird.
Their song is a soft, lisping descent down the scale. It is much repeated with subtle variations. These are birds who make their habitat in scrubby unkempt countryside rather than thick woods. They mostly prefer places a little wilder than towns or the intensive agricultural countryside.
1st Class: Goldcrest
These are Britain’s smallest birds, and they have a thin little song to match. The goldcrest can be heard from the tops of conifer trees with a pretty trickle of golden notes. The notes are very high and many birders as they grow older, often lose the ability to hear the goldcrest song.
Yet, on a still day under a stand of conifers in the spring you may catch their pretty song. Of course, a sighting of this bird, with its flaming headdress, is always cheering.
1st Class: Skylark
Skylarks are essentially ground birds that make their living from open spaces of grass, heath and arable fields. It’s only when spring is upon them that they take to the air for a sustained period. They are still widely distributed throughout the UK, but the steep decline in their numbers is one of the many worrying problems of the 21st-century countryside and bird lovers.
1st Class: Blackcap
With a song of prolonged grace and tunefulness, blackcaps have often been claimed as Britain’s champion songsters. The blackcaps’ tune is subtler and more melodic than the nightingale and they also travel much farther north.
Their song is fruity and fluty but mixes in more challenging notes and phrases. They like to sing from cover and are rarely seen. However, their song is familiar in mature gardens and parks nationwide as well as in wilder places.
1st Class: Song Thrush
Song thrushes are mad about repetition. They take a phrase, run through it two or three times, then come up with another and repeat that. They do so from a high, often exposed perch: the top of a mature tree is best, but even a lamp post will do.
The song thrush swings into action early in the year, on fine days in February. They can be heard anywhere with trees and open spaces, which makes parks and gardens as natural for them as woodland edges. You can continue to enjoy their song well into July.
1st Class: Nightingale
Nightingales don’t just sing at night; they also sing all day. It’s the most strenuous exercise taken up by any songbird, and what a song, louder than you would believe possible from a creature of its size. A crescendo of whistles, deep throbbing drumming, strange radiophonic sounds and snatches of pure melody.
Nightingales sing from within deep cover, so you will probably never see one in action. Instead, simply revel in that impossible song. It is at its loudest from late April to mid-May.
1st Class: Cuckoo
The two-syllable song was once known to everyone in the country but sadly it is a rarity. Yet, from late April to the beginning of June, in the right places – often low-lying and damp – the cuckoos arrive for a six-week frenzy of sound.
Cuckoos are famous for laying their eggs in other birds’ nests. As a result, the one essential of this lifestyle is for males to get into contact with females. This activity needs an uncomplicated song that carries for miles.
1st Class: Yellowhammer
The yellowhammer’s song was once the song of traditional farmland. This is a hedge-loving bird singing a much-repeated phrase that is traditionally written as ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’, although it’s more like ‘bread-bread-bread-bread cheeeeeese’.
Unfortunately, changes in farming practices have led to these birds’ decline. However, they can still be heard in places where the hedges and the food supply are right. The male, in a good light, stands out with a blazing yellow head.
Celebrate British Nature
As Spring is now in full swing, what better time to enjoy the delights of Britain’s varied nature. The Bees collection of Stamps and Stamp Cards marks Mother Nature’s greatest collectors.
Meanwhile the Landscape Gardens selection celebrates the work of Capability Brown, who created some of the country’s most memorable and much loved gardens, perfect to enjoy at this time of year.