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Robin, Wren & Dunnock

These are 3 of our commonest birds and yet identifying them from their warbling songs can pose problems to some people - and yes, I was one who struggled. Listen to the following songs and if you cannot identify which species it is singing, read on.


The Robin's melodious warbling song can be heard at anytime of the year, well, except for when it is moulting around July. Even in the winter, you will hear Robins singing because both sexes establish their own feeding territories - yes, both sexes sing!

The Robin usually sings from quite high up and will often sing at night time, especially near streetlights or other lighting. Their night time singing often leads to them being incorrectly identified as a Nightingale; their song is good, but not that good! From autumn, the song is soft and wistful (some say mournful) but then, as the days start to get longer again, their song becomes stronger and more passionate. The song is often written as "Twiddle-oo, twiddle-eedee, twiddle-oo twiddle". Each song burst lasts a couple of seconds but, after a short pause, will continue and may last what seems like forever.


Wow! How can something so small be so loud? (Read Bird Song to find out). The Wren sings from a perch too, but usually almost at ground level. The Wren's powerful warbling song belies the bird's size, but the next time you see a Wren sing, watch it closely – it trembles as it puts everything into its song. Part of the Wren's song is commonly confused with the Dunnock's. The song lasts about 5 seconds and usually ends in a trill.


The Dunnock's song has often been described as a dull ditty, but I find it rather pleasing, especially when it will often sing on a sunny winter's day. The song is a rather short, fast but flat warbling song that has neither the vigour of the Wren nor the sweetness of the Robin. The male Dunnock usually starts to sing in January and finishes around July, after breeding has finished. The Dunnock also sings from a perch, but usually quite low down. They may also sing briefly at night time, but this is not common. The song lasts about 3 seconds and is similar to part of the Wren's song, but is not as high pitched.

Aide Memoir

When I struggled with these 3 species' songs, I adopted the following aide memoir, which is along the lines of a school report:

Robin Puts little effort into producing an excellent song.
Wren Puts every ounce of effort into producing a hurried, exciting song.
Dunnock Tries its best but does not achieve.


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