Friday, 8 July 2011

Blackcap calls – we’re never too old to learn

Adult male Blackcap: calls of adults and young are different from Garden Warbler. © Jakup Stanco (
By Keith Vinicombe

One of the great things about birding is that, no matter how long we have been doing it, we continually learn new things.

On 24 June, I was walking along a track at Chew Valley Lake, Somerset, when I heard some soft, quiet calls emanating from some nearby hawthorns: a rather flat eeh, or slightly more disyllabic eeut, almost like a soft toy trumpet. I’d heard these calls before and I’d always assumed that they were part of the repertoire of juvenile Great Tits. However, as I shoved my head into the bush, I was surprised to find a brood of recently fledged Blackcaps and their attendant parents. All the years that I have been plodding around that lake, I had never before sussed this call!

Adult Blackcaps have a more familiar call, but a lot of people struggle to separate it from that of Garden Warbler, something that has always baffled me. Whereas adult Blackcaps give a hard and definite chet or teck, Garden Warbler gives a quite different repeated soft vit vit vit vit vit vit. A brood of Garden Warblers that I came across on 14 June was also giving a throaty, slightly rasping, eeup or eeip call, more similar to the juvenile Blackcaps (but probably stronger).

Garden Warblers give their contact call less frequently than Blackcap, but it is quite distinct once learned.© Steve Garvie (
The song of these two species is also very different yet frequently confused, but is less relevant now as we near the end of the song period.

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