How to Learn Bird Song

How to Learn Bird Song is your next step after learning by sight. For most of us, hearing birds goes hand in hand with seeing them. After all, who doesn’t enjoy stepping into our own backyard or opening the window on a spring morning. The outside world is full of bird song. What’s the easiest method to learn bird calls? Get outside, get yourself an appropriate recording for your area, and practice!


Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs Western Region Audio CD available at The Audubon Shop for bird watchers, Madison CT

This audio field guide to birds of the Western region of the US covers all of the birds west of the Mississippi River. It follows taxonomic order, the same order that’s in your field guide.

Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs: Eastern Region Audio CD, available at The Audubon Shop, the best shop for birders, Madison, CT.

This audio field guide to birds of the Eastern region of the US covers all of the birds east of the Mississippi River. It follows taxonomic order, the same order that’s in your field guide.


•   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 (as of 12/16/23 you might find this used. We just found out that it’s out of print). 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.

•    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! 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?


Listening for birds on a bird walk, the best shop for bird watchers, Madison CT

Coming on our Spring and Fall Bird Walks is a great way to learn some of the confusing calls that one might hear. Jerry often listens for bird song, chips and calls, and then looks for birds that are making those sounds.



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