TREE PIPIT (Anthus trivialis)

Pipit des arbres

Pipits are a group of birds generally difficult to identify. They are various shade of tawny -brown, with a speckled breast and a rather upright posture. In particular the Tree Pipit is not easy to tell on sight from a Meadow Pipit. In Switzerland even their distribution is quite similar being found from about 800m altitude and upwards, most common at at about 1200m. However both song and behaviour make the two immediately identifiable. As the name implies the Tree Pipit ONLY ever sings perched high in a tree or in flight, and its song, whilst complex is very distinct.

Here is a bird recorded in April and not yet in full song, maybe this is "spring song" before the full voice develops ? The birds was perched in a tree and you can hear that the phrase has two elements to it - "tsip-tsip-tsip chup-chup-chup":

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Full voice results in a longer more complex song, usually given from a high perch near the top of a tree:

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There are elements in here which could be confused with a Chaffinch, like this phrase:

Whilst others have quite distinct tones, in the following you can see that each phrase begins with the "chup-chup-chup" that sounds like a Chaffinch, but then it breaks into more ringing tones "choweep-chooweep-chooweep" which are much brighter, note also that the first phrase has a third element - two clear whistles with an upward inflection (these are important) - but now its getting complicated :

That whistle at the end of the first phrase is also used in the song flight which is the Tree Pipit in its full magnificence. The song flight can also involve strange chatterings and vibrations almost like a canary, listen to these two phrases which were actually made by a perched bird:

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and look at the first phrase in a sonogram:

You can also hear that distinctive upward inflected whistle in the second phrase, this is a real key to identifying the Tree Pipit:

So let's put all these elements together and see what it sounds like on a warm summer day. When "in season" the song can be made static from a high perch in which case it is usually in a simpler format, but it is also delivered in flight - here the bird flies upwards and outwards from its tree at an angle of about 60 degrees, rising to height perhaps twice that of the tree. It often does not start to sing until at the apex of the flight, it then curves its wings and spreads its tail to form a "parachute" and with legs extended floats slowly back to the original perching spot, usually making the churring sounds or whistles as it glides back down.

Here is a bird in late June (hear the cows bells and hover flies) which starts with a flight song, then does two phrases at a static perch, then does one more flight song - you can hear how much more extended and complex those two songs in flight are - the first one gets louder as the bird floats back to my microphone:

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and here is another which does the reverse, a perched song, then two flight songs and finally one perched song:

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In all cases that whistled "tcheu-tcheu-tcheu" is very distinctive, carries a long way and tells you there are Tree Pipits about.

 

 

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