Thursday, April 08, 2010

Birding by Ear

It's not too late to start listening to your bird song CDs. The climax of the Spring songbird migration is about a month away and I have some recommendations for preparing your ears.

When I hear a Blackburnian Warbler's high-pitched song resonating through the forest canopy, I can actually see its fiery orange throat and facial pattern in my mind. By knowing the songs and calls within a woodland filled with hundreds of singing birds, a structured, organized image of the surrounding creatures emerges out what, to the uninitiated, may be perceived as random, chaotic noise. The morning chorus on a May morning can be appreciated by just sitting with one's eyes closed and listening. Barring any severe hearing disorder, anyone can learn to recognize the songs and calls of their neighborhood birds. The best tool available, in my opinion, is the Peterson Field Guide Series "Birding By Ear".

For the northeastern United States, you need to have both "Birding by Ear: Eastern and Central North America" and "More Birding by Ear Eastern and Central North America". The series each come with three CDs worth of lessons. Bird songs are grouped into similar sounding categories with each category having a very simple, well explained set of mnemonics and other teaching tools. Rather than skipping around from disc to disc, I recommend using iTunes or similar music library program to upload the selective tracks and create the following playlist:

Sing-songers (Birding by Ear - disc 1, track 4)
Warbling Songsters (Birding by Ear - disc 2, track 6)
Wood Warblers & a Warbling Wren (Birding by Ear - disc 3, track 1)
Warblers: Buzzy (More Birding by Ear - disc 2, track 1)
Warblers: Simple (More Birding by Ear - disc 2, track 2)
Warblers: Two-Parted (More Birding by Ear - disc 2, track 3)
Warblers: Complex (More Birding by Ear - disc 2, track 4)
Empidonax Flycatchers (More Birding by Ear - disc 1, track 4)

I find listening during my subway commutes to be the most productive. Where and when you choose to listen is your call, but just do it regularly. I guarantee that within a couple of weeks you'll be surprised at the number of birds you'll be able to recognize by sound alone.

2 comments:

Monica said...

I'm going to try what you suggest re. the playlists. I finally got an ipod recently. Thanks!

Christopher Eliot said...

Just made up this playlist. Good reminder and pointer.

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