How to Learn Bird Song

•   As the earth rotates and we in the northern hemisphere start enjoying longer hours of daylight, there’s a shift in bird behavior, too. Our ancestors likely studied birds and came to understand that they were valuable to watch, as signalers of the earth’s rhythms.

•    One such behavior is singing. Volumes have been written on why and when birds sing and what the songs mean. This spring, 2020, as people have been confined to home and neighborhood, many of us are hearing bird calls much more than in previous years. We’re wondering, “which bird is that”? It may be a familiar bird’s spring call, one that they will use to attract a mate.

•    As amateur but avid listeners, we note that bird song in our neighborhoods starts picking up in mid to late winter. For songbirds, Titmice and Chickadees are among the first to start their spring songs, our resident Great-horned and Barred Owls and Red-shouldered Hawks become much more vocal, too. We find it helpful to learn song so we can tell “who’s” there long before we can see them. It’s particularly helpful when leaves come out, and it becomes less likely that you may see the singer…

•    What’s the difference between a call and a song? Do males and females sing the same song? Do their songs change at all during the seasons? We need to know how to learn bird song, and here are a few easy steps to get you started.

•    Learning these vocalizations is fun and rewarding and there’s an easy way to start recognizing who is around your neighborhood.  A 3 CD set called Birding by Ear covers Eastern and Central North American, and is an ingenious mini class that trains your ear to listen and learn. There are 85 birds in this set, and we guarantee that you’re already listening to some of them outside, without even knowing it.  Included is a 65 page booklet with species and habitat listings, as well as drawings.

•    Birding by Ear opens with American Robin, a song that most of us can easily recognize. “Cheer-up, Cheerily”. Up next is the Scarlet Tanager, described as “a robin with a sore throat”, then several vocalizations follow so one can easily hear the difference. Rhythms and patterns are highlighted, making it much easier to break down many bird calls on your own.

•    We find Birding by Ear an essential tool that opens the door for more study, later. Here in the east, The Stokes Field Guide to Eastern Bird Song would be a great next step, once you learn the basics of how to listen or what to listen for. This set includes more species and more sounds per species than any other collection. The set is narrated, but also comes with an MP3 collection of calls with no narration.

We’re looking, but we’re listening too! Jerry often listens, then looks.

•    Another trend involves the use of smart phones as a tool to learn. This “folding field guide” to warblers is a handy, pocket sized fold out that, with the aid of an app called a QR Code reader, enables you to listen to the vocalizations of 45 North American Warbler species. Not only that, the QR code also brings you to a 3D rendition of each bird that allows you to look at all of the distinctive patterns of these migrants.

•    Want to immerse yourself in a woodland full of song with no narration? When you enter the shop, no matter the season, you will hear the outstanding American Woodland CD on rotation.

•    We encourage you to use Cornell Lab of Ornithology as an authoritative reference when searching online for bird vocalizations. The Lab’s Macaulay Library has an archive of bird sounds that goes back to 1929! Allaboutbirds.org is Cornell’s very useful online field guide that also has bird vocalizations, check it out.

•    So, go ahead, start putting a name to that song! Rock around the clock, anyone?

 

 

Blog Categories

Blog Archives