How to Identify Birds by their Song

by Russ on February 23, 2013

The male chaffinch's call starts high and trickles down to the bottom of the scale. As the second most common British bird in 2013, this would be a great call to learn first.The sun has stated to come out and the birds have really begun to sing. Chaffinches, robins and blackbirds are all warming up their vocal cords for spring, so now is the perfect time to start learning the different bird calls. But with so many about, how do you start identifying different calls?

Each species has a different and unique sound. This is vital do separating calls into species because each species uses different calls for different times. For example, a blackbird has a territory call and an alarm call. With some species having over 60 different calls, it can be nearly impossible to learn each and every one so the best place to start is learning the general song patterns of each bird.

The greenfinch has a low, nasally song which sounds like it's suffering from a cold.When you are next outside and can hear bird call, choose one song concentrate on it alone. Start noting different aspects of the call. Is there regular repetition of notes? Is the song long or short? Are the notes sharp or do they blend together in melody? Is the pitch high or low? Finally, see if you can put words to what the bird is saying – this can be anything of your choice but will help you quickly recognise the call in the future.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t see what bird is making the call to begin with, what’s important is that you can distinguish it’s song from everything else.

Once you’re satisfied you can do this, choose another song that sounds completely different and ask yourself the same questions. By listing the call’s pitch, frequency, length and ‘what it’s saying’ words, you’ll be able to build up your own library of songs. You will eventually see what bird is making the song and that’s when you can put a species name next to a call in our library. The more you learn, the faster you’ll get at recognising the different tunes and you’ll even be able to guess at what bird is making a new call by comparing it to your current known library.

Here’s a great example to start with: The Great Tit

  • The great tit's 'teacher' 'teacher' call is easy to recognise. This bird has been recorded to have over 60 different calls for different events!The call is short with only two notes
  • These are repeated again and again
  • The two notes do not blend together
  • They are relatively high pitch
  • It sounds like the bird is singing ‘tea-cher’ ‘tea-cher’
Knowing that the great tit now makes short, repetitive calls you can confidently guess that other short, repetitive calls like this one could well be another great tit call. Remember, learning bird calls should be a fun and enjoyable experience and takes time, so don’t be disheartened by the huge range of songs in the British spring time. Enjoy!
Video by chainsawbeks, youtube.

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