Collins Bird Songs and Calls


The principal aim of this new and radically revised sound guide is to introduce the beginner to the characteristic songs and calls of most of the bird species regularly encountered (and heard) in Britain.

The first two CDs in the set (comprising 175 tracks) are organised by habitat, and therefore have the useful secondary function of explaining where and in what company each species is typically to be found. Some of these groupings are, as Sample admits, a little arbitrary (his Cormorants are recorded in a riverside setting, for example, not by rocky coasts or lakeside), but any disadvantage in that is far outweighed by the benefit of presenting birds in a natural context with appropriate ambient sounds. This gives the listener an important sense of birds in their place in the landscape and is a guide to what each habitat might offer.

The third CD is structured quite differently, by types of sound, and includes grouped comparisons between songs and calls that can prove difficult to distinguish; for example, Reed, Sedge and Marsh Warbler songs, and similar finch and bunting calls. These will be of value to more advanced birders too, though they would ideally like even more than can be accommodated here; Common, Arctic and Roseate Terns come to mind, as does Mediterranean Gull.

All the tracks have helpful voice-over comments from Sample, which add to the authentic character of the collection and emphasise that the work is recorded and edited by someone with extensive field experience, a wonderful ear and a distinctive ‘voice’ of his own. Finally, there is a substantial booklet with species accounts and a stimulating account of the history of human responses to bird song.

Technically, the recordings are superb and the whole package is very professionally presented and produced. Highly recommended, and not just for beginners.

Tech spec

Collins Bird Songs and Calls by Geoff Sample (HarperCollins, London, 2010).

Three CDs, three hour 30 mins running time, plus 128-page hbk book.

ISBN 9780007339761. £30.  First published in Birdwatch 221:45 (November 2010)

Available from Birdwatch Bookshop

First published in Birdwatch 221:45 (November 2010)