Friday, June 25, 2010

Birding 101: Birding by Ear

Spending an afternoon trying to decide if the bird I just heard sang "zee, zip" or "zip, zee" is NOT my idea of fun.  When we first started this birding adventure of ours, I thought we would never bird by ear.  If we couldn't see it, then we wouldn't identify it.

But then we started hearing A LOT more birds than we saw and decided birding by ear was the way to go.

We decided to carry the Identiflyer with us on every birding outing but found it really difficult to try to match what we were hearing to the recordings.  We found ourselves fumbling through all those cards, and by the time we would find something remotely similar, the real-life bird would have flown the coop.  Our untrained ears could not distinguish between the really similar tunes, either.  It was con.fu.sing.

I decided we had to do some study at home so we would be more prepared while in the field.  I challenged the boys to use the resources below to memorize five songs/calls per week.  As I heard the bird recordings sing over and over again in my living room, dining room, and classroom (and two little boys mimic them incessantly), I soon memorized them, too.  :)

Here are some of the resources we found most helpful:

Les Beletsky's Bird Songs is our absolute favorite!  The boys have spent hours looking and listening to this great book and accompanying audio files... so much time in fact that they have memorized almost every bird song contained on it.

We bought this version for my MIL, and she loves it.  I like the smaller size and think it would be much easier to take into the field.  However, it does contain fewer birds than the original.

The boys listen to Birding by Ear or More Birding by Ear at bedtime about twice per week.  It is soothing and nice to fall asleep to and it has helped them to memorize dozens of calls.

By far, the most effective learning tool has been the Audubon plush birds.  The boys could not help but learn the bird calls as they played with their "friends" who "speak" in authentic bird sounds.

The Identiflyer has been instrumental in helping the boys identify birds by ear.  We have used it to practice at home with guessing games... I play a song, and they tell me the corresponding bird.  

As I mentioned earlier, however, it is limiting.  You must be familiar with what is on each card to help you narrow your search or have the time and patience to go through each bird on each card until you find a match.  When we have time to sit, listen and match, it is a very helpful in-field tool.  Plus, if we make an i.d. that way, we never forget it. 

Another con is that the cards must be bought individually, so you can only make a match if you have the right card.  Expensive and cumbersome, but still excellent for home study or slow days in the park.

One day, I would like to purchase this...

The recordings are saved within the pen.  You scan a bar code listed in an accompanying book to access a particular bird's song.  Much easier, I would think.

The real trick to memorizing, however, has been the use of mnemonics

Some of the books I have recommended in this post, as well as field guides, provide ideas for phrases that can be sung to the bird's tune to aid memory.  We have found it most effective to create our own when possible. 

Writing mnemonics is a creative task, and there is not a right or wrong.  We use phrases that hold meaning to us, describe the bird, or contain its name as often as possible.  Click here to be redirected to a document we created which contains most of the mnemonics we use.  Some were created by other bird watchers; some are Olive Plants orginals.  Either way, please feel free to use as many as you find helpful.  We compiled this list quickly, so please overlook any errors.  Thanks and enjoy!   

Happy Birding!

Disclosure:  I am an Amazon affiliate and will receive a commission if you purchase after following any of the links to their site included in this post or elsewhere on my blog.  I have not been compensated for writing this article and have offered my honest opinion of each product mentioned.

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