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Culture: Wildlife with RSPB Lakenheath Fen ... Cetti-ng the tone

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Cetti's warbler
Cetti's warbler

Last year, I joined my local amateur dramatics society after a gap of around 15 years since I was last on stage. I did the pantomime which got me singing in front of an audience as part of the chorus. I am now doing a well-known musical with the same company and this time, I have to sing solo! If you are wondering why this is relevant, the rest of this article is about bird song (which is a lot more melodic than my singing!).

We then move on to the question, why sing? In my case, I sing because I enjoy it. In terms of birds though, although they may sound like they enjoy it, sometimes they have very serious reasons why they sing. At this time of year, they are not only singing to attract a mate, they are also singing to guard their territories from potential usurpers.

Although as I write in early February it is pretty cold outside, many of our resident birds are already singing. There is a song thrush close to where I live which is currently belting out its song every morning. It has such a distinctive song, as it picks a phrase and repeats it three times before moving on to another phrase. It often sings from a high perch so that its song carries a long way.

When I am at work at RSPB Lakenheath Fen, there are a great variety of birds singing, especially on sunny days. We have two species of birds that have really loud songs and these species often compete volume wise. They are the wren and the Cetti’s warblers. The familiar wren, which is one of our smallest resident birds, has a rapid trill of a song. It is so loud that singing birds actually physically shake when they deliver their song.

The Cetti’s warbler’s explosive song is even louder, and is sometimes written as: “Cet, cet cet, Cetti, Cetti, Cetti!” It is always delivered from cover and the singing bird is very rarely seen. When it is seen, it is a little brown bird that looks a bit like a wren. I have included a picture of a Cetti’s warbler with this article, just so you can see what one looks like.

Other prominent songs at this time of year are the fluty blackbird, which romantically usually start singing around Valentine’s Day. There are also the wistful tones of the mistle thrush which sound similar to a blackbird, but are slightly wilder and delivered in what sounds like a minor key if you are musical.

I hope you have enjoyed this article and it helps you to relate to some of the bird songs that you hear in the next month or so. If you want to learn more about birdsong, why not come on one of our guided walks? Please visit rspb.org.uk/lakenheathfen for more information.

David White, Visitor experience Officer, RSPB Lakenheath Fen