Using Voice for Identification

Birds use a territorial song during the nesting period. Depending the species, song is also heard during migration or even during the winter.

Calls or call notes are not as complex as their song and they are used to send an alert signal or maintain contact with each other.

Recognizing the voice of birds helps one know where to look. You can see the bird in your mind when you hear a familiar song or call. A simple example, if you hear the voice of a seagull, you automatically look to the sky to see it, not on the ground hiding in some bushes. Most birders recognize the voice first and then know where to look to find the bird.

Try to document any vocalizations that you hear. Describe these sounds in your own words or record them using a tape recorder or a camcorder. To help improve the quality of the recording, you can use a bionic ear or other similar devices.

Field guides use mnemonics and other descriptions to help remember and identify the bird. Some mnemonic examples are:

  • American Crow:  Caw, caw, caw
  • American Goldfinch:  Po-tato-chip
  • American Robin:  Cherry, cherry, cherry
  • Red-winged Blackbird:  Konk-a-reee
  • Rufous-Sided Towhee:  Drink-your-tea
  • White-crowned Sparrow:  More, more, more cheesies, please

To help you become familiar with the voices in your backyard, purchase recordings or listen to recordings online. Tom Lorenzin lists over 1,000+ mnemonics on his web site. Other recording recommendations are:

  • Birding by Ear by Peterson
  • More Birding by Ear by Richard Walton & Robert Lawson
  • The Singing Life of Birds by Donald Kroodsma

The best online library source of bird songs is Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library. National Wildlife Federation's site, is another excellent source for bird songs and general information. You can send ecards from this site choosing any bird with their click and play song.

Birding by ear is a great identification tool, especially as we age and our vision isn't quite like it was in our youth. As we age, identification through voice keeps us in touch with nature. And always, when a bird sings, you cannot help but smile and say … That's amoré!