Identifying Birds By Sound

When you started bird watching you probably learnt to identify birds by the way the look learning about their field marks and colours. Learning to identify birds by ear is a useful skill for any bird watcher and will help enhance your bird watching experience.

Singing Yellowhammer

Some birds look very similar from a distance and one of the ways you can distinguish them is by their sound. Combing a knowledge of bird sound with visual recognition means you will be able to positively identify a wide variety of birds. Learning birds’ calls and songs is also useful as it can help you locate birds rather than relying on fleeting glimpses or movement in the surrounding area. You will also be able to enjoy bird watching in the evening or when light levels are poor.

It will take some practice to be able to identify birds by ear. There are many resources available to help you. Recordings are available online and you can buy mp3 downloads and CDs to help you. Try and listen to different bird sounds regularly so your ears become familiar with them.

Start by learning the sounds of the birds that you can see in your garden. You may already be familiar with some of them. This will help train your ear to the nuances of different birds’ calls.

Birds sing the most during dawn so try and get out bird watching early in the morning. At that time the cool air helps the sound carry further and their will be less interference such as traffic noise to help you hear the songs and calls more clearly.

Make sure you are very still when you are bird watching. Birds have sensitive hearing and will become silent if they feel threatened. Stop walking and listen to the bird sounds around you. Try and focus on one and tune out all other sounds. Turn your head to pinpoint the direction of the sound.

Once you’ve isolated a bird call or song think how you would describe it as this will help with identification. What is its pitch? Is it high or low and how does the pitch change throughout the call. Is the song a warble, screech, whistle or a coo? How long does the song last? Is it loud or soft? And does it repeat itself?

Once you’ve identified all its features compare it to your field guide or audio resource to identify the bird. You will probably find this difficult to begin with but over time as you become more familiar with different sounds it will start to become easier.

To help you learn to identify birds by sound you may find these bird watching apps useful or take a look at our bird identification guides where you can hear examples of British birds’ songs and calls.

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