• PhilT

Bird song and calls

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

This blog was written for Ecotherapy at St Nicks. To find out more about Ecotherapy at St Nicks including how to join click here

Most birds will sing to defend a territory and attract a mate. It might therefore seem a bit counterintuitive to learn birdsong in winter outside of the peak breeding season – and it is true that there are fewer birds singing at this time of year – but that makes their individual songs much easier to hear and distinguish.

A quick note to distinguish between a birdsong and a bird call:

· Birdsong is typically a composition of sound used to advertise the bird’s presence, defending territory or attracting a mate.

· A bird call on the other hand is a much simpler piece of sound, often shorter, and used for keeping in touch with relatives or members of a social group (contact calls) or warning of predators (alarm calls).

As with all things in nature, sometimes the distinction between song and call is extremely blurred.


Robins are one of the main birds that sing during winter and are one of the easiest to hear. The song is made up of quite complicated verses, which sound liquid-y and flowing - but rather than me attempt to describe their sound is, it’s probably best you follow link below to listen to the song itself… (scroll down on the webpage to below the robin picture)


The reason robins are so easy to hear during winter is that they are one of the few British species that maintain a territory during this time of year. Also female robins maintain a territory and sing as well, a fact that was only discovered during the early 1920s.

There are a few ideas about why robins maintain territories during winter, with the main one being they are securing themselves a source of food. However, in his excellent book The Robin: A Biography, Stephen Moss discusses other theories, including one that robins sing to suppress their instinct to migrate. By doing this, in theory, robins will be in a key position to set up a territory in the actual breeding season next spring, rather than having to travel from far away and then stake a claim.

You may also notice some robins making a quieter simpler song, this is known as a subsong and is made by young birds practising ready for the next breeding season.

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