May 3, 2011

Spring songs and the art of bird listening

In the spring it becomes ever more important to learn the songs of New England migrants: warblers, vireos, thrush, tanagers, and orioles to name a few. With leaves on the trees and insects in the air the woods and forest floors shiver with waves of life. In tree tops far away separating “tisps” from “chups” seem like separating a single A flat from a Beethoven symphony.  But with some practice and a good audio guide it is possible to build an ear for the world above. Warblers really don’t warble and tanagers sound like a robin with a soar throat. These kinds of clues along with a visual understanding of how bird songs are constructed and some simple mnemonics will unlock the life of the canopy and reveal one of the great myths of bird watching; songbirds are found by ear almost 80% of the time.

Birding by Ear: Eastern and Central North America (Peterson Field Guides(R))The best way to start learning is to access songs online or purchase one of the many useful audio guides. While some guides offer sounds for every North American bird, one audio guide will actually walk you through the tricks of learning common New England bird songs. Walton and Lawson's Birding by Ear has all but become the standard for learning bird song and the smart title is now synonymous with the very act… birding by ear.

To learn more about bird song in the field join me every Wednesdays in May at Newton Hill Park in Worcester, MA for a lunch time “power bird watch”. We’ll meet at 12:15pm in front of the Blessed Sacrament Church at 551 Pleasant Street Worcester, MA 01602

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact:

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