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Friday, March 29, 2019

Are your ears ready for Spring?

Every year around this time since I began my blog over 14 years ago I write about the importance of ear birding. The northbound migration, you see, is not just a spectacular visual phenomenon, but also an audio event. The millions of songbirds that descend upon the NYC area create a short-lived landscape of warbles, whistles, chips and trills. Once these songsters continue to their breeding grounds we won't hear this dynamic dawn chorus again until the following year's Spring migration. To help appreciate these serenades, and make locating the songster a bit easier all you need to do is spend about a half an hour a day for 7 to 10 days with the right teaching tools.

There are several sources available to help you learn how to identify birds by ear, but the best one for my money is the Peterson Field Guides series of CDs (as far as I am aware, they are not available as digital downloads). These discs are not reference recordings, but rather well organized lessons that use groups of similar sounding species, repetition and mnemonics to help you quickly learn sounds. Here on the east coast of North America you should purchase "Birding by Ear: Eastern/Central" and "More Birding by Ear Eastern and Central North America". There are discs available for the west coast, as well.

Below is a list of recommended tracks to study. Obviously, there are many more common species in our area which you could add as you feel needed.

The colorful wood-warblers are the most important songbirds to learn. Once you've purchased the discs, use iTunes (or similar software) to import the following tracks so you don't have to constantly shuffle through the 6 discs:

Name Album Disc # Track #
Sing-songers Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 1 4
Warbling Songsters Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 2 6
Wood Warblers and a Warbling Wren Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 3 1
Warblers: Buzzy More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 2 1
Warblers: Simple More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 2 2
Warblers: Two-Parted More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 2 3
Warblers: Complex More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 2 4
Empidonax Flycatchers More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 1 4

Note that I included the empidonax flycatchers on the list as they are notoriously difficult to separate visually, but each have very distinctive vocalizations.

The woodland thrushes are also incredible songsters, so I recommend the following tracks:

Name Album Disc # Track #
Thrushes Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 3 2
Thrushes More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 1 7


One family of bird vocalizations that I tend to neglect are the shorebirds. More often than not, during spring migration a group of calling shorebirds passing overhead are noted only as "flock of unidentified peeps". While their calls and songs may not be nearly as melodic as the wood-warblers, they are each unique and easily identifiable if you take a few minutes each day to study the recommended "Birding by Ear" tracks.

Name Album Disc # Track #
Shorebirds: Pairs More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 3 1
Shorebirds: Plovers More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 3 2
Shorebirds: Whistlers More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 3 3
Shorebirds: Peepers More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 3 4
Shorebirds: Other More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 3 5

Please note that I don't make any money promoting the Peterson Field Guide series. I only do this because I have found that their systematic approach to learning bird-song to be the most effective available. If you have recommendations for other learning tools, feel free to email me or put something in the comments section. Spend 15 - 20 minutes a day listening during your commute, so that by the time all the songbirds begin streaming through NYC I guarantee you'll be able to find a lot more birds and add a whole other dimension to the experience of birding.

Here are a few more resources:

BirdGenie
Chirp!
Larkwire
Merlin

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