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How to Be a Better Birder: Learning Bird Calls

“When a bird sings, it’s telling you what it is and where it is. Learn bird calls and open a new window on your birding.”
All About Birds website, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

It all started last year with our visit to Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology…a desire to be a better birder. I have known that my listening skills are not as sharp as they could be and I made it a goal to learn more of my local bird’s songs and calls, one bird at a time.

We have been at it for about ten months and I have found that just paging through The Backyard Birdsong Guideand listening to the songs has greatly helped me learn to distinguish between a House sparrow and a House finch, a Titmous and a Nuthatch. I think it is like learning a whole new language and as you work on it your ears get accustomed to hearing subtle differences.

This page on All About Birds has some wonderful tips for learning to recognize bird songs: Songs and Calls. I highly recommend it for anyone who is trying to learn this skill. My boys pick up on it faster than I do so don’t hesitate to share the tips with your children.

Last summer I was able to identify a Hermit thrush during our Oregon camping trip by listening and repeating in my head the song he cried out in the forest. I followed the advice to put the bird song into words that I could remember. I now can immediately identify it with no question.

The Steller’s jay that has moved into my neighborhood in the last few months can be heard easily and distinguished from the Western scrub jay with ease.

The titmouse, the Spotted towhee, the Cedar waxwing…all are easily identified now by their sound.

It feels good. You can do it too by taking one bird at a time and making your own memory or aid to remembering.

During my recent trip to Florida, I used my camera video to capture some bird calls for later identifying.

Do I think it is worth the effort to learn the various bird songs of my neighborhood birds? Yes! It has given our family so much more enjoyment in our birding and has helped us to be more skilled at listening. You can use the ideas in last week’s challenge to help you get started: Birding by Ear.

Do you know any of your local bird’s songs?

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2 thoughts on “How to Be a Better Birder: Learning Bird Calls

  1. Thanks to our bird song book (the one you have pictured at the top), my children can identify more calls than I can. But I’m getting there! I know a handful; the kids probably know a dozen local birds. That said, I was able to identify a stellar’s jay by its call on vacation a couple weeks ago! We have lots of scrub jays here, and we see stellar’s jays occasionally at a particular creek we frequent. While we were on vacation, the children said they saw a pair of blue birds, which they assumed were scrub jays because they hadn’t gotten a close look. I went out back with them and immediately recognized the stellar’s jay squawking. Fun! I think I’m going to have to pick up the CD you have pictured at the top for my bird-loving son’s upcoming birthday.

  2. The new to our neighborhood Steller’s jay comes every day now and I can hear him outside my window squawking at the other birds. It is fun to know without seeing.

    I used the CD quite a bit at first but I need to get back to it. It is very informative and will be a great long term project for your son.

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