Dear Readers, the grasshopper warblers will soon be arriving in the UK (if they’re not here already), but it’s likely that you’ve never seen one unless you are a very dedicated birdwatcher – these are extremely shy, cryptically coloured birds, quintessential ‘little brown jobs’. You might well have heard one, though, without realising it, because this bird isn’t named after a susurrating insect for nothing. This recording is from the Netherlands, by Michel Veldt.
Listening to the song makes me wonder just how much energy this small bird must use to call at this intensity for such a long time. It’s astonishing. The bird can keep up this call for two to three minutes without so much as pausing for breath. My Crossley Guide describes it as a ‘fast reeling trill (actually 26 double notes per second) on constant pitch – it also sounds like a cyclist freewheeling‘. It’s all the more surprising that the bird can keep this up when you consider that grasshopper warblers have already flown all the way from north and west Africa.
Furthermore, the male displays by running along twigs with his wings and tail spread, often carrying a twig or leaf in his beak as an added incentive. The nest is built low to the ground in reedbeds or other dense foliage, and herein lies one reason for their drastic decline over the past few decades – wetlands are drained, water is polluted, and as the birds are insectivorous there is also the decline in insect populations to consider. Both parents incubate and rear the nestlings here in the UK before the whole family flies south again for the winter, and fortunately overall the species is doing well, with a range that encompasses much of temperate Europe and Central Asia. As we’ve seen time and time again, it is the UK that is losing (and has lost) much of its wildlife. In the words of beloved David Attenborough, we are the most nature-depleted country in Europe.
The song of the grasshopper warbler is at exactly the frequency of sound that we tend to lose the ability to hear as we get older. And so, here’s a second excerpt for those of us who still can hear it. How sad it would be if even those with young ears weren’t able to hear this strange summer sound, because the bird that makes it no longer visits us? This excerpt was recorded by Irish Wildlife Sounds on Cahore Marsh in Ireland.
Luckily I could hear both but without your info would have assumed the sounds were made by a cicada or grasshopper. Extraordinary.
They are amazing aren’t they…I must keep an ear open next time at the Wetlands.