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Hampstead Heath has over 50 species of breeding birds, and in Spring many are nesting and singing. Surveys reveal that the top five songsters at this time are Wren, Robin, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Blackbird. If you are curious about the birds you are hearing, the RSPB has useful information.

But if you just want to learn to recognize a few Heath songsters, here are some tips. Robins will often sing in sight from trees and bushes, and often at night. Theirs is a “silverly”, slightly mournful and often descending song.

Wrens are more mouse-like and often sing from dense scrub. They have a dramatically loud song for their tiny size, with a distinctive trill in the middle, like a “soft machine gun”.

Amongst our warblers, the Chiffchaff has a two-syllable song like its name “chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff, etc.” often sung high in trees, while the Blackcap has a fast and complex warbling song, sung from bushes, that has gained it the name “Nightingale of the North”. 

Thrushes are great songsters. The Song Thrush is in decline across Britain, and the Heath is an important London stronghold for this species. Its loud song is a series of phrases, each repeated three to five times. The song of the Blackbird is gentle, some have said “soporific”, and lacks these repeated phrases. Finally, listen out for our least common thrush, the Mistle Thrush whose song is delivered in distinct phrases, shorter than a Blackbirds and more solemn, almost like a sermon. The Mistle Thrush sings from the very tallest treetops, even in windy weather, gaining it the country name of “Stormcock”.

The Mistle Thrush sings from treetops (photo by Adrian Brooker)
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