ROBIN (Erithacus rubecula)

Rougegorge familier

 

The Robin has to be (as the French name suggests) one of the most familiar birds to everyone. Not only does it grace the front of many Christmas cards, it is the archetypical garden bird and visitor to winter feeding tables. It is found throughout Switzerland up to about 2000m and is common throughout many different habitats.

The song is very difficult to describe, it is so completely variable there is no real pattern that can be identified. It ranges up and down the scale, including some very high notes in excess of 10 Khz, often with big jumps in frequency. It is also known to mimic other species, but seems to take phrases from other species and adapt them to its own needs, so even the mimicry can be hard to pin down. However the song of the Robin in all cases is to me a rather watery, apologetic, melancholy song and it is this "quality" aspect which identifies it most readily to my ears:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Here is the sonogram of just two phrases with the time between them shortened, you can see the jumps in frequency:

Why this bird is so associated with winter I am not sure. It may be because it has the unusual habit of defending winter territories around food supplies, it uses the red breast in display behaviour and sings throughout the winter; so we are usually aware of its presence at a time when other birds are largely silent. (Incidentally people often tell me about how "fat" their garden Robin is, but that is simply because they erect their feathers in winter to improve insulation to avoid freezing to death - their shape is not related to their condition !).

The books tell me that winter song is more melancholy than summer song, and I think that is correct, but I do not actually have the evidence in my collection at the moment as I lack winter recordings of this bird. That previous recording was made in March - at the end of the winter, this next one was made in May at the start of summer:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Did that sound more aggressive than the earlier one ? Maybe it does a little, but I need to investigate this a bit more next winter I think.

When alarmed it does a high-pitched (up to 8Khz) "tick" sound both single and repeated, often making a little jump when doing so -here are two birds having a territorial dispute in the early morning as the forest wakes up after an overnight snowfall:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

 

 

 

NIGHTINGALE (Luscinia megarhynchos)

Rossignol philomèle

 

Nightingale.jpgThe Nightingale is found only in the lowlands in Switzerland from 400m - 800m and usually in wet marshy areas or in rough scrub alongside rivers. They are summer visitors and from their return in mid-April they are immediately vocal, but stop singing in early June even though they are around until late September.

Nightingales really do sing at night ! But not only at night they also sing during the day, especially at dawn and up to about 11.00h after which they are much quieter until the evening. Quite a shy skulking bird they are difficult to see. If disturbed they often fly out of cover low over the ground into another patch - a dull brown bird with a rusty red tail.

But when they sing, they are second to none in my opinion. Beautiful pure rounded tones, deep mellow notes, rapid churrs and plaintive cries, all mixed up in rich, bubbling, piping phrases and delivered with real energy and exuberance: Here is a fairly long sequence so you can appreciate the full variety of the offerings:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

That long sequence gives the impression of a confusing gaggle of noise which would be hard to identify. And indeed each individual phrase is very different one from the other, researchers have found that an individual male can have 250 different phrases, each with subtle variations giving "600 phrase types" and these can be delivered at a rate of 400 per hour. But depsite the variety of notes there are certain patterns which stand out and help to immediately identify the songster as a Nightingale.

The opening phrase in that last recording was preceded by 4-5 very plaintive notes followed by a rapid warble, and those plaintive notes are one very distinctive feature for identification. Here is that opening, followed by the same pattern from 4 other birds - the notes are different in pitch and timbre between each one but you can appreciate that the pattern is distinctive:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

And here is what those notes look like, you can see that the plaintive tone in the opening notes comes from a  downward inflection, and they are then always followed by a rapid warble.

There are other phrases in that piece that are typical of a Nightingale, rich deep notes "chow-chow-chow" (to help you learn I have repeated one call 3 times here)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

and raidly repeated whistles (2 types of whistled phrase repeated twice each):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Once you learn a few of these patterns you can pick them up within the full song and it becomes much less bewildering and readily identifiable. Here is a 2 min sequence from another bird see if you can pick up some of these patterns and maybe spot some of your own:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The alarm call is  a harsh tone which I have never recorded, but I did once watch a Nightingale making this gentle anxiety call when I had approached too near.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

 

 

 

BLACK REDSTART (Phoenicurus ochruros)

Rougequeue noir

 

Although most common in the lowlands, the Black Redstart is found everywhere in Switzerland - right up to the highest levels in the alps at the snowline. It is naturally a bird of scree slopes and boulder fields and so the mountains above the tree-line are ideal habitat. It feeds on small insects upon which it dives down from a high perch, or which it chases along the ground, it can also take small fruits. However this selection of open rocky areas also makes it ideally pre-adapted to man-made habitats. So buildings, farm yards, dry-stone walls etc all make ideal territories. In the Jura almost every mountain farm has a pair of Black Redstarts in residence, profiting from the abundant insects around the cow sheds. They are quite unafraid of human presence, a pair nested right above the front door a house I lived in for many years.

They like to sing from exposed perches and so are very obvious with an upright stance and a hurried rattling song which can carry quite a long distance. Each song phrase lasts 3-4 seconds and consists of three parts - it starts with a series of accelerating warbling notes followed by a short pause (about 0.5 secs only), this is then followed by a very peculiar rattling noise that some people say sounds like a small bag of metal ball bearings being shaken around, this runs continuously into the third and last part which is another series of warbling notes:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The three parts can be seen quite clearly in the following sonogram which is of two phrases with the time between them shortened for convenience:

The rattling sequence is a very strange activity, even if we slow it down to half speed and expand the scale the separate notes there cannot be distinguished it is so rapid, but the accelerating rate of the first warble is more obvious at that slower speed:

Whilst this is the most obvious evidence of its presence it also does a series of single note contact calls; here is a female with 3 young recently out of the nest, she was calling to keep contact with them but the note (a hard chat-like noise) also seems to have a touch of alarm to it, perhaps caused by my presence:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

But when seriously threatened the alarm notes take on a much more rapid character - here is a male in August chasing a Stoat, or Ermine (Mustela erminea) through rocks and boulders on a hot summer day with lots of hover flies around:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

STONECHAT (Saxicola torquata)

Tarier pâtre

 

Although it can be found up to about 1200 m the Stonechat is essentially a lowland bird in Switzerland being found most commonly below 600m around Lac Léman. It inhabits open scrubby country, grasslands and disturbed habitats. Although wary of human presence it will sit high on a song-post to deliver its songs and calls - the summit of a pine tree or a tall bush. With its dark black head and white patch on the side of the neck the male is very distinctive when it sits in such a position.

The Stonechat gets its name from its most common call - a sharp "tchak" often repeated which sounds exactly like two stones being knocked together:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Although it sounds like an alarm call I think this is also a generalised call, used for territorial purposes and contact, as well as alarm situations. The full alarm call is also the "tchak" call but is often preceded by a high-pitched "hweet":

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

It is usually only heard singing very early in the morning - from a  high perch as always. The song is a rapid, somewhat rattling warble - almost a snatch of sound:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

It is not an easy song to pick out as the phrases vary a lot between individuals and even within one individual and so there is no real consistent pattern to it other than the jerky little phrases, you can see this in a sonogram of just three phrases:

The notes in each phrase can be more easily followed if we look at it played at half speed:

 

 

 

  •  Start 
  •  Prev 
  •  Next 
  •  End 

Page 1 of 3

Go to top