Birdwatcher’s guide to surviving lockdown

Isn’t it amazing how a powerful, dominant species such as a human being can be thwarted by the tiniest of organisms. As I write, the coronavirus is sweeping the globe creating more questions than answers about its effect over the coming months. The uncertainty about our health and the financial implications of the pandemic is causing a great deal of stress and anxiety so it’s important for us to find a way to cope. One way is to become closer to nature but with the country approaching full lockdown, how do we do this?

Learning birdsong is a great project to see you through this difficult time. Whether you’re self-isolating, homeworking or just plain fed up, birdsong will provide an uplifting distraction. If you’re able to take a walk away from the crowds in your local park, or sit in your garden, you’ll be able to practise by listening to the birds around you. If you’re not able to leave the house, then read on to find out about the best resources available.

Most people struggle with birdsong and it’s not surprising. There are a lot of similar sounds to differentiate between and it takes lots of practise. The main formula is to listen little but often. Remember, you know so many songs from your youth. You learnt these because each song was played by every DJ every day on the radio. Initially you’ll have learned parts of the tune of the chorus, then some words, then the whole chorus, then the sound of the verses, then the words of the verses. It’s like that with birdsong.

Here are some tips to help you.

  1. Forget trying to name the birds and listen to songs the way that birds do. When a bird is holding a territory, it will sing then it will pause to listen to its neighbours of the same species.

Method: Listen to one song with your eyes closed and notice the notes, pitch, rhythm and phrases of that song. When you have picked up the song, wait until the bird stops then see if you can hear the song being repeated elsewhere. You can practise this in your garden and, once you can recognise a song, you can then name the species.

  • Get yourself a good CD. I recommend the sound recordist, Geoff Sample. He takes you to specific bird habitats and gives you a chance to guess the species before telling you what it is.
  • Download an App. A good one is Chirp! by Spiny Software Ltd. You can listen to individual species or you can select some favourites and test yourself in the quiz. You can score your efforts to see if you are improving.

Learning birdsong takes time and commitment but avoid listening to too many songs at once. If you do, you’ll start to falter and your confidence will drop. This is normal when learning so don’t get too disheartened. Just start slowly and keep trying. While learning, please don’t be tempted to play birdsong outdoors on your phone during the breeding season. This will disturb breeding birds.



Linda Jenkinson teaches people about birds in and around Leeds. For details of classes email or call 07778 768719. Visit or Start Birding on Facebook and Twitter

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