How to Identify Bird Calls

The last few dawns have sounded like spring (in spite of the snow we’ve been having). The birds are getting excited and so am I!

I’ll be renewing my efforts to learn bird calls this year. Here are some suggestions on how to become an auditory birding expert.

Photo Caption: This book is a little bulky to take hiking but perfect for getting children interested in bird sounds.

Books and CDs:

Gadgets and Tools:

Free Online Sources:

Places to Go Birding:

I’d also like to include a local mention for Lake Conestee Nature Park in Greenville, SC. Spring birding at this park is unbelievably rewarding, as is the Florida-like wetlands area with boardwalks and observation decks. There is also an attractive meadow maintained with bluebird boxes. You can view a species list (scroll down and click on the updated link) to get an idea of what you might see there. It’s one of my favorite destinations year-round!

Happy birding! I’d love to hear about your experiences or your recommendations!

Eliza Lord

I'm a Greenville, SC native (the Appalachian foothills) who wears the hats of Greenville Master Gardener & Upstate Master Naturalist. I love to write about food and sustainability.

4 thoughts on “How to Identify Bird Calls”

  1. Anna - February 16, 2010 7:01 pm

    Those are all good options, but the Stokes CD is by far the best once you learn the bare minimum. The other CDs I’ve tried are very difficult since they only give one or two examples of each song or call — Stokes has all the permutations!

    Also, it’s useful to know the difference between songs and calls. The former are used by all birds for signaling to each other, but the latter are primarily used for attracting a mate and defending a territory. Only song birds sing (meaning that the sounds you hear from hawks, ducks, etc., are only calls), and songbirds primarily sing in the spring and summer. Sounds you hear in the fall and winter are primarily calls. Calls are often shorter single notes that can be more difficult to identify (like the metallic “chip” of a cardinal), while songs are often more complicated (like the “pretty, pretty, pretty” that the same cardinal will start singing pretty soon!)

    Now is a great time to start learning bird sounds since you have a far smaller set of birds to choose from. If you can learn all the winter residents by the time spring migration rolls around, you’ll be in good shape!

    (I hope you don’t mind me running on. I was a TA for an ornithology class in college and it just comes streaming out. :-) )

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 17, 2010 8:29 am

      Please “run on” (I wouldn’t call it that!) I’m delighted when knowledgeable people weigh in. :)

      Thanks for the contrast between songs and calls, that is very helpful. I’m glad for the personal recommendation on the Stokes CD, too!

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  3. Cheryl Hanson
    Twitter: cherylhanson16
    - February 13, 2011 6:13 pm

    I have not tried this book yet, but with 250 birds included in the addition, that could be a great way to get kids interested in the beauty of nature that is birds! I believe that seeing the birds can be hard, but you often can get a chance to hear them. We have a pileated woodpecker that loves to call out to the other members of the family, and is very loud! When I pointed it out to our neighbors, they recognized the call, as it is so different-and were so glad to know what it was. Birds are so amazing!

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