Identifying Bird Song: You Know More Than You Think


Eastern phoebe, Schenley Park, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

After months of silence, spring is coming and the birds are singing again. It’s the best time of year to practice identifying birds by song.

No matter your skill level there’s always more to learn. If you’re an expert, it’s time to practice songs heard only once a year during spring migration. (Cape May warbler!)

If you’re new to bird song you probably think, “It’s so hard to learn bird song. I don’t know anything!”

Here are two hot tips to help birders at any level.

Tip #1: You’ll learn the song better if you see the bird singing. We humans are visual learners. Look for the unknown singer and watch him sing.

The eastern phoebe pictured above looks plain but he’s easy to identify by song because he says his name: FEE bee! FEE bee! The author of the video below went looking for the bird to watch him sing. It’s a bit seasick-making 😉

Tip #2: Keep at it! You already know some bird songs. Just build from there, one bird at a time.

Here are three birds most people can identify. I bet you can, too.

Bird #1 (Xeno Canto 454252, recorded in Norfolk County, MA by Will Sweet)

Bird #2 (Xeno Canto 421264, recorded in Tompkins County, NY by Gabriel Leite)

Bird #3 (Xeno Canto 399153, recorded in Harrison Hills Park, Allegheny County, PA by Aidan Place) This recording is faint so you may have to turn up the sound … and hear it raining.

You already know more than you think.

(photo of eastern phoebe by Peter Bell. Xeno Canto recordings identified and linked in the captions above)