As I stepped out of my porch this morning, with the dawn still to come, I was struck by a sound coming from the tree across the road. The sad, wistful notes came from an unseen bird, standing on a branch or twig amongst the foliage. The tune came again as I left the office for the day but this time there were two calling from within the bushes, perched some way apart.
After hearing very little bird song over the past few weeks, with the post-breeding moult keeping the birds quiet, the calls stood out from the background noise.
The calls came from robins.
The robin is unusual in that it sings almost throughout the year – the moult being the only time it remains quiet for any length of time. The singing enables the robin to keep its territory across the seasons but the song changes and is in two distinct phases. As breeding approaches, the song is more powerful, purposeful and bright, attracting a mate to the ground above which it stands protector. However, after it has refreshed from a hectic breeding season and the autumn proceeds, the song changes to more melancholic notes, as if saddened by the end of another year approaching.
After spending so much time listening to bird songs and calls during the breeding bird surveys this year, the quietness that the moult brought was quite startling and I noticed it more than ever before. The autumn call of the robin, however, has lifted the silence and has opened my ears to a whole new season of sound. It won’t be long until the some of my days are filled with the sounds of wintering geese and swans, and the dusk is accompanied by the alarm calls of blackbirds as the darkness of the lengthening nights envelope the land.