Over the years you hear sounds in the garden that tell you it’s a certain season. And sometimes it takes you years to work out what makes these sounds. This was the case with the squeaking of the cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha) in summer, which I wrote about here.
Another sound, which I can hear as I write this, is the thin, plaintive, high-pitched squealing/shrieking/wailing of the baby bird season. I have had trouble describing it, but I have seen some people online give it a name – and that name is “Tseeep”. It could also be “Tseeeeep” or even “Tseeeeeeep”, as it is quite drawn out and mournful.
For a while I thought it might be an insect, or a baby bird, but now I know the truth. It is a specific warning sound made by an adult blackbird (Turdus Merula) – and I have seen both male and female parents doing it.
I have just found a very good blog post, illustrated with the various alarm sounds on The Rattling Crow, a blog on bird behaviour. It makes me realise how little I know about the subtle differences between various blackbird alarm calls used in different circumstances.
The blog writer, Africa Gomez, identifies “Tseeep” as “Seeee”, very different from the common alarms a blackbird uses, flicking its wings and tail and making a chinking and clattering noise as it flies for cover.
The call is high-pitched to make the bird more difficult to locate, and it also seems to have the effect of making its family go quiet in the nest to avoid the attentions of a possible predator.
Although similar to many birds’ warnings for aerial threats, as opposed to cats on the ground, in my garden at least the blackbirds make the noise when a human is around, even though they KNOW I am there to feed them since they line up outside the window every morning, waiting for the raisins I put out.
So that’s the sound explained and I now feel pleased to hear it as I know there are baby birds around, even though they are not brought to visit our bird table until they are toddlers or even later. We have plenty of shrubby cover, so the parents prefer to take the food there to feed the young ‘uns.
We know adult male blackbirds are black, with gold beak and eye ring, while females are brown and without the gold, but I must admit I continue to have problems differentiating between brown juvenile blackbirds and adult females. Here are some pictures I have taken over the last few years and what age and sex I think the birds are, although I am probably wrong in some cases…
As they get older you also have to work out which sex they are going to be…
So I am afraid I still have more questions than answers, despite reading up on the subject and looking at examples. It’s the reddish colour that throws me every time…
For more information:
See the RSPB blackbird page here
See the British Garden Birds blackbird page here
See the BTO blackbird page here
See the Wikipedia blackbird page here