As I mentioned last month, winter’s a great time to study birds indoors. One skill I like to brush up on is my ability to identify birds by sound. It takes a while to learn this skill but it’s well worth the effort because you always hear more birds than you can find with binoculars.
Interested in learning? Here’s how.
First, get your hands on one or more of the many fine recordings specifically geared toward learning bird sounds. These come in many formats: CDs, iPod files, iPhone apps and web-based recordings. The best learning tools include audio explanations with each bird call.
Then, set aside some time to listen and learn at your own pace. You can learn indoors but you’ll need to practice in the field, too. Winter may seem like a bad time to do this but it’s great for learning the basic sounds of resident birds without the springtime confusion of all the birds singing at once.
The two instructional series I know best are the CDs I use myself: Peterson’s Birding by Ear and Lang Elliott’s Know Your Bird Sounds. Both cover the birds of eastern and central North America and include a booklet with the CD.
The Peterson series is good for spring and summer because it focuses on songs, the sound birds make during the breeding season. Species with similar songs are grouped together with tips to tell them apart so you can compare the sounds and identify them more readily in the field.
In winter like to use Lang Elliott’s Know Your Bird Sounds, pictured here, because it includes all the sounds each species makes, not only their songs but the sounds you’ll hear right now: contact calls, alarm calls and even the whistle of their wings (e.g. mourning doves). The booklet describes the basics of bird song and Lang Elliott's soothing voice announces the bird, describes the type of call you're about to hear and explains the situations in which the bird makes the sound.
Want to get started right away? The Lang Elliott CDs are available on the Shop WQED website. Just click on the picture above and scroll down the page to purchase one or both CDs.
And remember, be patient as you learn. This skill will take years to perfect and even the best birders need to brush up on it.
…In fact, I think I’ll go listen to my CDs.
(photos from Shop WQED's Nature category)