CIRL BUNTING (Emberiza cirlus)

Bruant zizi

The Cirl Bunting is mostly sedentary in Switzerland, it is essentially a lowland species most frequent up to about 600m but can occur higher. It is sparsely distributed mostly along the bottom of river valleys in the north and west and even then it favours the sunny southern-facing slopes. The head markings make it quite a pretty bird in a good view.

The French name comes from its rather monotonous song, a sort of rattling trill. But having said the sound is monotonous, like its close relative the Yellowhammer there are a remarkable number of variations to be heard - but all more or less of the same theme and quality. I will below give you a sample of those I have come across - but be warned Cramp and Perrins quote a study of more than 2000 song samples which showed up more than 60 variations with individual birds being able to sing between 1-6 song types ! So it can get a bit of a mess I suppose. However all the songs I have found are of the same basic character and readily recognisable. As stated the general character is a rattling trill lasting just a few seconds, with a longish pause and then repeated - a lot !!

Below each sample I will show a still shot of one phrase from the sonogram (the phrases are too long and fast to make a good movie from them). Each of the stills is captured from one original long sonogram so all the notes are set to the same sized axes even if the shots appear a slightly different sizes on your screen (the challenges of uploading precise images to the Internet I'm afraid !).

The first is a very commonly heard call - quite mellow in some ways, maybe because each is a sort of "double note", delivered at about 9 per second:

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and here is another (from the same bird) that is of a rather "drier" more brittle character, see that each is a single note, delivered a bit faster, about 13 per second:

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here is a bird that delivered notes at a faster rate about 16 per second also with a rather "dry" quality:

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and here is another that seemed slower and more deliberate about its approach, delivery was about 10 per second and this looks like a more compound note (which sounds "softer" to my imagination) more similar to the first one:

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All of these have very slight and subtle differences as can be seen in the individual sonograms, although I cannot really explain how the shape and the sounds actually link together. The only patterns I can see are that the "softer" more "mellow" sounds (first and fourth) seem compound notes of several elements which are delivered more slowly (maybe as a consequence of the complexity ?), and the "drier" more "rattly" sounds (second and third) seem simpler in structure and delivered faster.

Here is a compilation of all four one after the other starting with the first one on this page and working through the rest in the order presented:

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You can pick out the differences by ear - but they are rather difficult to describe.

If you have looked at the Yellowhammer page you would have found that the third call there describes a variant which is just the introductory trill - this sounds quite similar to the Cirl Bunting and could perhaps be confused with it - however the Yellowhammer has a brighter more ringing tone to it, compared with the rather dry rattle of the Cirl Bunting, here is a sonogram of two phrases from each (with time intervals much shortened) to compare the two - Cirl Bunting first Yellowhammer second:

For the sonogram I chose call number one, that seems to me the closest to the Yellowhammer, but even so the dry rattle of the Cirl Bunting is quite different form the more buzzy ring of the Yellowhammer.

 

 

 

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