Spring Bird Calls or What the heck was That???

As winter is waning, you may notice that birds begin marking a new season by singing at dawn once again. In late January to mid February here in CT, American Robins start their “cheer-up, cheerily” dawn and dusk song pattern once again. So, although nesting time for Robins (again, in CT) is common from April through July, they begin letting other birds know that they are around several weeks beforehand.

Jerry and I learned how to recognize common backyard bird calls and songs with an incredibly useful tool called “Birding by Ear” (eastern, Central US). Birding by Ear is a 3 CD set. (unfortunately as of 12/16/23 the CD set is out of print with no plans to reprint).  It’s a class, narrated by authors/birders Dick Walton and Robert Lawson, that trains you to recognize patterns in bird calls and songs.

Using techniques such as phonetics, mnemonics, and descriptive words, Walton and Lawson provide a context for learning the songs and calls of eighty-five species of birds found east of the Rockies.

Instead of merely providing a catalog of bird song samples (like a field guide to bird songs would), Birding by Ear actually teaches. This proven method has greatly enhanced the field experience for birders across North America. The authors have created learning groups of similar vocalizations and clearly point out distinguishing characteristics.

For example, did you know that the American Goldfinch’s frequent song can be heard and memorized as “potato chip potato chip”? The goldfinch male also has a sweet courtship call described as “tee-yee”.

Occasionally we are stumped by an unfamiliar bird call in our backyard. We’ll turn to each other with a quizzical look that says “what was that?!?”. We listen with ears trained to recognize patterns, and have a good jumping off point to discovery of who our neighbor might be. Liberating!

If you’d like to be able to identify birds by their calls and songs, check out Birding by Ear, first. (You might be able to find it used.)Finch Bird Feeders, available at The Audubon Shop, the best store for birders, Madison, CT

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