Resources for Learning to Identify Bird Song

Like anything else, learning bird songs takes practice and close attention. Here are some resources and my experiences that may help guide you.

How I Learned

  • Mnemonic/Sound Pattern Recognition: When I took ornithology in undergrad, we used Peterson’s Birding by Ear which groups songs by characteristics and thereby teaches you to listen for broad characteristics, patterns and mnemonics. Thus, I’m a little biased and potentially a little “old-school.” Yet, I’d highly recommend this resource to start learning “how to listen” to bird songs.
  • Repetition of Bird Songs: Audio sources that include a compendium of bird songs with the bird species names, such as Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs, let you replay the song until you can commit it to memory. Other collections of songs that don’t start with the bird species name can be used for quizzing yourself.
  • Quiz: The aforementioned Peterson’s Birding by Ear audio CD has tests at the end, and since then Larkwire has been released, which quizzes the listener with songs from groups of 4 species at a time. There is still demand for different quiz formats, though, that are feasible to implement with a little programming elbow grease!

A Newer Technique (in the sense of availability): Spectrogram analysis

We didn’t learn this when I took undergrad ornithology, but it’s my understanding that this is now more commonly taught. There are also now many more tools on the scene that make spectrograms of bird songs accessible.

  • Handbook of Bird Biology:  This was the newer textbook on the scene, again introduced after I took the class. Chapter 10 is titled “Avian Vocal Behavior” which is largely illustrated through spectrograms, and has links to online material.
    • Bird Academy: The online material for the textbook is freely available, and under the umbrella of this site.
  • Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Eastern North America
  • Analysis Software
    • Raven Lite 2.0
    • Spectrogram Phone Apps: While it appears some of the automated bird song identification apps have some catching up to do, you could still potentially record the spectrogram of a call/song and compare it with the above book.

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