Ring Ouzel Songs in Scotland, England, Norway, Germany and Austria

Dave Stemple, 2005

Direct to Germany 2004 report
Direct to Norway 2004 report

This a preliminary comparison of Ring Ouzel songs in Scotland, England, Norway, Germany, Austria, Spain and France, based on recordings made from 2000 to 2005. The birds observed, around 60 individuals, all sing a combination of simple and complex songs. In Scotland, England and Norway the simple songs are shared by all members of a local group and are not sung in other groups. Early in the morning and late in the afternoon many birds sing a large variety of complex songs of exceptional beauty to this listener. As the morning proceeds, complex songs decrease, and the simple songs dominate the singing. The opposite happens in the afternoon with complex songs increasing as the afternoon changes to evening and dusk. Simple songs make up dialects, microgeographic in Scotland and perhaps across larger areas in England. The Norway situation is similar, but the simple songs of neighbors do not match as well as they do in Great Britain. Sites in Germany, Austria, Spain and France, with individuals of subspecies Turdus torquatus alpestris, show no evidence of dialects, each individual singing a set of unique simple songs. Possible reasons for the difference in song behavior include habitat differences: UK birds live and nest in heather, bracken and grass, Norway birds in juniper, and southern birds in pines and spruces near alms (Alpine meadows). An interesting aspect of alpestris is groups of birds singing at elevations lower than their nesting territories in the mountains as they work their way up to their nesting territories. Whether this has an influence on song repertoires is unknown at this point.

Here is a section of early morning (4:50 AM, April 28, 2001) singing of individual RZGST2 in Glen Shee (Scotland) with a series of complex songs. Click anywhere in the sonogram to play the sound. The sound files for this and the next sonogram are over 100k each.



Here is the same bird, also around 4:50 AM, interspersing simple songs. This sequence comprises a song of three flat whistles, a slight pause, a single whistle, complex song 1, a single phrase of another simple song, complex song 2, three simple songs, followed by a complex song. Behind the single simple song in the middle of the sonogram a bird singing a simple song can heard, and seen, dimly. The inter-song intervals have been shortened very slightly, not more than 0.2 seconds each for a more compact sound file and sonogram. Click anywhere in the sonogram to play the sound.





 Individuals of geograpically clustered groups of Ring Ouzels share small distinct sets (1 to 4 song types) of simple songs. In the Scottish Highlands these areas can be very small. In the two areas of England that I briefly explored, they appear to be larger. Simple songs are delivered singly and in groups of two, three or four spaced around a quarter second apart; two and three are the most frequent grouping. Below is a table of simple songs from 9 areas, the first 7 from Scotland, the next 2 from England. Click on a sonogram to hear the song.


      CAT glen
    Glen Clunie
Glen Shee
Glen Esk
  Glen Clova
    Glen Isla
  Glen Turret
    North Yorkshire


Each row depicts the simple song types sung by the birds in the area named to the right. In the following they are referred to by the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 going from left to right. The first column is an attempt to identify homologous song types that sound most like a flat whistle. These are clear choices except for Glen Turret, where type 3 could be the homologue (or it could have diappeared in the dialect). Other song types cluster into various groups: burry versions of type 1, smooth disyllabic songs such as Glen Clunie type 2, and a burry version of a smooth disyllabic song (Glen Shee).

The burry versions of the type 1 songs are the type 2 songs of Glens Clova, Isla, and Turret, and North Yorkshire Moors, though Glen Esk has a seldom sung pair of smooth and burry whistles, types 2 and 3. The smooth disyllabic songs are: Glen Clunie type 2, Glen Shee type 2 (uncommonly sung), Glen Esk type 4, and Glen Clova type 3. The only burry version of a disyllabic song is the most frequently heard song in Glen Shee, type 3.

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Dave Stemple, stemple@cs.umass.edu