MEADOW PIPIT (Anthus pratensis)
In Switzerland the Meadow Pipit is essentially a bird of upland areas in the north of the country, found mainly in the Jura and the northern slopes of the pre-alps. I encounter it from about 800m and upwards to about 1600m. It strongly favours the rough pasturelands that can be found around 1000-1200m where it breeds. Found year-round in Switzerland it is also a migrant in Europe, so birds that are passing through, and birds moving to lower altitudes in cold weather also account for sightings in the valleys.
The dull grey-brown speckled colouration means that although you may hear the sounds it is not always easy to spot the caller. In appearance and sound it is also easily confused with the Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta) and so I will examine the sounds in some detail to help work out how they differ.
The basic song can be delivered from a perch and also in flight; here is a bird perched on a fence post, (the small hum in the background comes from the generator of a distant farm):
The sound is fairly bright and clear with a slightly "ringing" metallic feel to my ears. If we look at the sonogram we can see that the notes are somewhat complex, each one has two elements to it, starting with one which descends quickly from about 6 Khz to 3 Khz, followed immediately (about 0.02 s later !) by another that is shaped like a hockey stick and descends from about 7 Khz leveling off at about 6 Khz:
These two notes can be clearly seen in the sonogram and show up in the graph of sound intensity (the upper blue area in the figure below) but human ears cannot work that fast so we hear just one note.
At its best (in my opinion !) the song is delivered in flight, this is used to attract mates and advertise territory, since its favoured grassland breeding habitat contains few trees this is an effective way of getting your song and up and out there to advertise (see also Skylark which does the same). The bird starts to sing as it flies upwards, then turns and spreads its wings and tail like a parachute and will circle slowly back down to the ground. The song accelerates as it develops and then slows again towards the end. Here are two deliveries of the song flight, you can hear the sound getting louder and quieter as the bird circles away from my microphone:
(Excuse the cows in the background - I told you they like pastureland !).As the song flight finishes they can also sometimes fly along horizontal to the ground with wings quivering rapidly and then the song changes into a series of rattling "tsisp" notes which tail off - listen again to the end of the second of the sequences above where this happens:
Frequently the song flight follows a series of songs delivered from a perch and the bird then flies up and sings again as in this sequence:
Now the parachuting song flight sounds pretty much the same as the perched song we examined at the start of this page, but remember the "hockey-stick" note? Well if we look at the sonogram of the flight dsipaly it appears that note has been turned upside-down - the handle of the hockey-stick now points downwards and it levels off at about 4.5 Khz slightly lower than in the perched call:
In fact the whole song shape seems upside down. Our ears cannot pick out these subtleties of course, but presumably it conveys information to other Meadow Pipits, we can only speculate as to what it might mean - maybe one for territory and one for a mate ? Who knows ? From that sonogram you can also see how the notes gain in tempo during the delivery as well.
To keep contact with other birds (or maybe a flock on migration) they also have a short contact call:
This same note is used as an anxiety or alarm call especially near the nest, it is delivered more rapidly and seems to become even more rapid the more anxious the bird becomes, there are two sequences in the following the second showing a higher state of alarm:
Have a look at the Water Pipit page where I put the sounds of the two species side by side so that you can learn the difference.