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RSPB Liverpool Robin

Blog: Chris Tynan, RSPB Liverpool

by FACT

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In 2018, Chris Tynan received the RSPB Presidents Award. The Presidents award is given to 5 volunteers every year to highlight outstanding volunteering to the RSPB.

Chris has been the RSPB Liverpool Local Group leader for over 20 years. He gives talks to varied local groups and is a regular nature watcher on BBC Radio Merseyside on a Saturday morning. He is described by those who know him as inspirational and his energy and enthusiasm for birds and wildlife have ensured a large number of people in Merseyside care deeply about nature.

We invited Chris Tynan from RSPB Liverpool to share his knowledge to help you identify birds and bird calls in around Merseyside.

BIRD CALLS

From March to July, those feathered alarm clocks are at it again, as they defend their territories and sing to attract a mate.

Our songbirds time their breeding season to the warmest part of the year, when there is plenty of food and lots of daylight in which to find it. As winter turns to spring, the lengthening daylight switches male songbirds into breeding mode.

The first songsters of the season are native residents such as robins and great tits joined later by migrant birds like chiffchaffs and blackcaps, makingMay and June the peak time to enjoy the dawn chorus.

The first birds begin to sing about an hour before sunrise. If you listen carefully, you may notice that there is a regular sequence, with some species habitually starting before others. Among the earliest to rise are skylarks, song thrushes, robins and blackbirds, and as they do eat worms there may be some truth to the old saying!

A more relaxed approach is taken by wrens and warblers, that typically appear later. These smaller birds, who are perhaps more sensitive to the coldness of dawn, feed on insects that appear later in the morning.

The dim light of dawn is not a good time to go foraging. Food, like insects and seeds, may be difficult to find, so perhaps it's a better time to try and attract a mate. Singing also brings the risk of attracting a predator, so it is better done before the bright morning light betrays the singer's position.

The air is often still at this time and, with less background noise song can carry up to 20 times as far. As the light strengthens food becomes easier to find, so hungry birds begin to move off and the chorus gradually diminishes.

There is another chorus at dusk, which is considered quieter, though some birds - like tree sparrows and blue tits – seem to prefer to sing at this time of day. It may simply be that we take less notice of it than the dawn chorus - when we are so keen to enjoy a few more moments in bed!

Singing is hard work and uses hard won food reserves, so it is the fittest, best-fed males who produce the strongest, most impressive song. Females therefore choose a mate who sings best, because such a male is more likely to be good at raising chicks, to have a good territory, or to pass successful genes to their young.

The dawn chorus is a way for some bird species to attract a partner or to declare a breeding zone. Passerines are our normal singing birds, so birds like grey heron have a call but don’t sing!

In many species, once the female has been attracted the male will sing less often. A bird that sings on and on, late into the season, is probably a lonely bachelor who has failed to attract a mate.

If you want to listen to a dawn chorus then the best days to choose are those with fine, clear weather and little wind. It can be cold early in the day, so remember to take warm clothes. Late April through to early June is the best period, when most species are singing well.

Dawn chorus peaks half-an-hour before, to half-an-hour after sunrise but the variety of song can prove too confusing at that time, so why not get into position a good hour before sunrise and enjoy the arrival of the performers as each takes their turn on stage.

PARKS AND WILD SPACES

In Liverpool you can watch and listen to a variety of bird species in Festival Gardens, Sefton Park, Greenbank Park, Calderstones Park, Newsham Park and Walton Hall Park.

In Sefton; Derby Park, Duke Street Park and Hesketh Park.

In Knowsley; Stadt Moers Park and Halewood Park.

In Wirral; Central Park, Royden Park

BIRDS TO LOOK OUT FOR

Blackbird. The male’s live up to their name with black plumage and a yellow/gold beak with the same coloured eye ring. Females are brown with spots and streaks on their breasts. Blackbirds are very common in the UK and can be spotted in all of the parks listed above. These birds could have 3 nesting attempts. They have a mellow song and also have an alarm call to warn other birds.

Blackbird RSPB Liverpool

Blackbird, Courtesy of RSPB Liverpool

The common wood pigeon is the UK’s largest pigeon, with grey feathers and white collaring on its neck and white patches on its wings. Its low cooing call is a familiar sound in British woodland, as is the clattering sound of its wings during its slow take off.

RSPB Wood Pigeon

Wood Pigeon, Courtesy of RSPB

Robins are not just spotted at Christmas time.These small birds are in our gardens and parks all year round. Males and females look identical with their classic red breast and face and golden brown wings. Robins have a light, optimistic song, chirping nearly all year round. Despite their sweet song, they can be aggressively territorial towards other robins and dunnocks.

RSPB Liverpool Robin

Robin, Courtesy of RSPB Liverpool

The Song Thrush is so called because of the variety of tunes in its musical repertoire; normally repeating each song 3 times in one call. This brown spotted bird used to be a common garden resident but its numbers have declined markedly and is now found more commonly in parks and woodland.

Song thrush singing Chris Gomersall

Song Thrush, Courtesy of Chris Gomersall

The common Wren is a tiny, rounded brown bird (although not the smallest in the UK) and for something so small it has a remarkably loud singing voice! Wren’s display a variety of longer songs which are light and high in pitch. Their natural habitats include woodland, farmland and in gardens.

RSPB Common Wren

Common Wren, Courtesy of RSPB

The Goldcrest is our smallest bird at only 9cm long, and has a cyclic high pitched call. They are dull greyish-green with a pale round belly and a distinct black and yellow stripe on their heads.

The goldcrest can be found in gardens around pine trees and conifers, as its tiny beak is ideally suited for picking out insects from between pine needles. The goldcrest has a brightly coloured cousin called a firecrest, more commonly found in the south of Britain.

Goldcrest at RSPB Portmore Lough Credit Tim Ryan

Goldcrest, Courtesy of Tim Ryan

The Chiffchaff is a small olive-brown warbler which actively flits through trees and shrubs, with a distinctive tail-wagging movement. You can usually spot them during the summer.

Chiffchaffs often have dark legs and a short pale eye stripe and are often mistaken for the Willow Warbler. It is readily distinguished by its steady, rhythmic “chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff” song, from which it gets its onomatopoeic name.

Http voice gardenbird co ukall about the chiffchaff

Chiff Chaff, Courtesy of Garden Bird

The whitethroat has a scratchy, fast-paced song which varies in pitch. Both males and females have a distinctive slope of grey feathers on their heads, a white throat and a long brown/black tail which they flick and cock as they dart rapidly in and out of cover. The whitethroat likes to perch in bramble areas and is a passage migrant, visiting the UK in the summer.

Common whitethroat by David Tipling rspb images com

Common Whitethroat, Courtesy of David Tipling

Blackcap. The blackcap is a distinctive greyish warbler, the male has a black cap and the female a reddish chestnut one. Its delightful fluting song has earned it the name ‘northern nightingale’. This bird is primarily a summer visitor from Germany and north-east Europe, which lives and sings in woodland.

Blackcap male Roger Tidman rspb images com

Blackcap, Courtesy of Roger Tidman

This blog is part of Dawn Chorus Week.

Dawn Chorus Week is part of The Living Planet, FACT's free online programme that explores our relationship with the natural world.