Tips for Identifying Bird Calls

There are approximately 10,000 different species of birds in the world today, and around 2000 of those can be found in North America alone. For bird watching enthusiasts, the challenge is to find and identify as many of these species as possible. In order to do this, birders use a number of clues including, the location and habitat, and the physical attributes of the bird itself such as shape, size and coloring. One of the easiest and most useful identification tools is the song or call, a unique attribute of each species.

Birds use their songs to communicate, and their calls can be heard over long distances, in dense vegetation or at night when the bird itself can't be seen. Birds can create a greater variety of sounds than humans, and have the ability to take shallow short breaths synchronized with their songs giving the impression that their calls are long and uninterrupted.

In order to identify a bird by its sound, a birdwatcher must listen to various components in the call. For example, does the song consist of a single note, two notes or three or more notes? The call of the Mourning Dove is a trill but always on exactly the same note, while a House Finch chirps up and down on two distinct notes.

Another characteristic is the musical quality of the call. Some birds such as the Skylark have a call that is amazing in its beauty and complexity, while the harsh nasal sound of the Laughing Gull won't inspire any cantatas.

Bird calls may be high, moderate or low pitched, and their songs may be short or long in duration. Even the speed of sound repetition can help distinguish one bird from another. The Song Sparrow issues short, quick, moderate pitched chirps with a break between each one, while the American Goldfinch's call is high-pitched, in groups of three, descending, short sounds.

The term birding by ear, means learning to identify birds by their individual calls. Gaining this skill requires time and patience. Start by listening to the birds in your own yard and trying to distinguish one sound from another. You can find the sounds you are hearing by listening to audio clips of individual bird songs online.

Choose the early morning to go bird watching. The cool air and lack of noise allows their calls to be carried more easily. Take detailed notes of what you hear and then go back to the internet and try to match the song to the bird. By listening for a birds call, you can more easily locate the bird itself through your binoculars, and learn to match the physical characteristics with the sound.

Learning to identify birds by their calls will add a rich dimension to your birding experiences, and allow an increased appreciation of the avian creatures that share our world.