How to Identify Birds by Their Song

"Birding by ear" is a technique to identify birds by their song. Today we'll tell you all about it.
How to Identify Birds by Their Song
Francisco María García

Written and verified by the lawyer Francisco María García.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

How to identify birds by their song is knowledge many people would love to have. So much so that techies have even created some apps for this purpose. OK, but, there must be a way to do it the old way. You’re right, there is. So, how do you distinguish the various species by their own particular sound? Well, it isn’t always easy, but anyone can do it.
In reality, birds often emit many different sounds. The most frequent are shrieks and singing sounds. Each of them has its own function to ensure the survival of the species.
According to scholars, shrieks are shorter vocal fragments. Their purpose is to communicate specific situations and various moods: as a sound to express danger, a call, or to say it’s leaving or arriving.

Singing, a complex issue

Singing sounds are already identified as longer, complex and more elaborate sounds. There’s no agreement about their usefulness. However, the most accepted theory is that they fulfill the process of courtship for mating.

A yellow bird.
Identifying birds by their song is difficult for humans for many reasons. The main reason is that vision is more important to us and we distinguish images better than sounds. Also, because there are many different species of birds and they all have different songs. There are some who even can mimic the sounds of other birds.
There are some morphological guides available to guide us in bird sound recognition. However, beginners can’t understand them well. Neither can those who are curious and wish to learn something new.

Six ways to identify birds by their song

Observation is the most effective way to learn to identify birds by their songs. When watching a bird sing, you should pay close attention to try to associate the bird’s morphology with the sound. However, the most important thing is to listen carefully to the variations emitted in the song. Otherwise, all the songs will appear identical.

Associate the song with a known sound

Reproducing a birdsong is one of the biggest problems when studying them. For investigation purposes, that is. It’s difficult to memorize an unknown sound. Also, it’s almost impossible to find a copy in bird manuals and encyclopedias.
When listening to birdsong, you must try to associate it with a known sound. For example, the bird known as European Nightjar emits a sound that’s a lot like a car engine.

Record the sound

It’s very difficult to remember all the sounds emitted by the different bird species by heart. So, you must record the sound of each song with a recorder, a cellphone or even a notebook. Always bring along some tools with which to check what you heard, in order to memorize the sound in your head.

Do your research to be able to identify birds by their song

There’s no knowledge without effort. You must investigate the information that you collected in your fieldwork. Also, listen to and record the various bird songs.

A line of birds.

There’s currently a lot of documentation out there about morphology and song association.

Pay attention to the name of the bird

The names or nicknames of many birds derive from the particular sounds these animals emit. So, another trick to remember them is to think about the name of a bird and try to associate it with their sounds.

Describe the nuances to identify birds by their song

Before you can identify birdsong you must learn to differentiate their soft nuances. This is because the latter comprise the sounds emitted by each species. One way to do it is to describe them with familiar qualities to your ear and vision. For example, a song can be more metallic, hollow, fluted, etc.

Some scholars claim they can associate bird songs with situations common to humans. For example, they say that the European Serin is hyper because of the intensity and speed of its sound.

But in the end, why set aside the wonders of technology? You can take advantage of these new apps that allow you to identify birds by their song in seconds. So far, the most recommended one is the Audubon Bird Guide and is available for download online. You’ll see how it eases the task of identifying birdsong.

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