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Training Your Ear to Identify Bird Songs & Calls

Do you ever just stop and listen to birds? Their calls and songs are so unique, sometimes beautiful and melodic, other times shrill and surprising.

a red-winged blackbird perches at a bird feeder
A Red-winged Blackbird at my Feeder

But how can you tell all those sounds apart? If you see a bird chirp or call, that can help you learn to match the sound with the visual. But what if you can't see the birds and can only hear them?

a hand holds a hand embroidered red-winged blackbird artwork
Red-winged Blackbird Stitched Artwork.

Red-winged blackbirds have a distinctive loud call, one that I particularly adore. It's so unique, it's easy to distinguish it from other birds.

These black beauties continue to inspire my stitched work. See the full video below to watch this red-winged blackbird come to life from start to finish.

The Spotted Towhee has several distinctive calls and songs that are beautiful to the ear. When I began to distinguish bird sounds, I finally learned how often towhees are hiding in the trees above.

a hand embroidery stitched picture of a spotted towhee bird
Spotted Towhee Slow Stitched Collage

Thanks to bird books and apps like Cornell Lab's Merlin Bird ID I'm training my ear to recognize birds in my own backyard. The Sound ID feature of the app allows you to record as it identifies birds in real time.

I used the app's Sound feature this morning - Look at this interesting grouping of birds in my backyard - a Crow, Song Sparrow, Canada Goose, Varied Thrush, Common Redpoll, House Finch, Spotted Towhee and Steller's Jay. What an amazing collection!

an image showing various bird species matched from the sound ID app by the Cornell Lab
Results from Merlin Bird "Sound ID" feature in the app

The Redpoll was a surprise - they are very uncommon in my neck of the woods. I've learned so much and my ear is getting better and better.

a hand holds a stitched collage of a Steller's Jay
Steller's Jay Stitched Artwork on Canvas (Sold)

When the crows come around for peanuts, I'm always happy to see a Steller's Jay dashing in to steal a peanut or two. They are full of personality and so beautiful. Their loud squawk is another sound that's easy to learn.

a Steller's Jay bird perched at a flat bird feeder
A Steller's Jay at My Tray Feeder

This cheeky Jay was a constant visitor who eventually brought the whole family to visit. They often took turns calling from the trees for peanuts before quickly bobbing in and out with their loot.

a hand embroidered junco bird in pink green and blue
Junco Stitched Artwork

So how do you train your ear to identify birds?

  • Listen. Note the birds you may already recognize - crows, seagulls, robins -whichever birds you know you know.

  • Try to separate out any calls or songs you can't identify. Take some guesses about what they might be and use a resource like All About Birds to look up your guesses and listen to the sounds they make.

  • Get help from apps like Merlin Bird ID.

  • Talk to other birders in your area. In my experience they are generous and helpful.

  • Take Recordings.

  • Listen some more.

Most of all, relax and enjoy being serenaded by bird song.



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