Enhance Your Bird Watching by Learning Their Songs and Calls

I am sure everyone remembers Ernie Allison. He wrote a guest article for Nature Center Magazine about attracting hummingbirds. If you missed it, you can click here to read it.

Today Ernie has graciously given us another interesting article. I know you will enjoy it as much as I do.

Author Introduction

Ernie Allison is a nature writer with a particular interest in birds. He is dedicated to using his writing skills to bring awareness to conservation issues concerning birds. To help further this mission, he writes for the bird feeder website, birdfeeders.com

Enhance Your Bird Watching by Learning Their Songs and Calls

Bird watching itself can be very enjoyable, but when you come to understand the meanings of their songs and calls, the experience can be that much better. There is something about being able to identify a bird without even being able to see it that brings the excitement of bird watching to another level. Learning the songs and calls of birds is a difficult task but it is much worth the effort.
Bird songs and calls differ from each other in a couple of ways.


Bird songs are relatively long and elaborate. They can be best heard at dawn and they are usually produced only by males. The main purpose of songs is to attract females and claim a territory. A female bird evaluates the overall health and maturity of a male bird based off of his song. This gives older males a slight advantage over younger males because their song has had more time to mature.


Bird calls differ from songs in that they are shorter and less complex. Birds use calls to communicate specific information to particular individuals or to an entire flock or family. By using calls, birds have the ability to communicate many different things including location, danger, discovery of a food source, and flocking. Even though birds use calls to communicate specific information, they only have to ability to communicate information that is presently taking place.

Start Learning

Learning to identify birds by their songs and calls takes years of practice and even the most experienced birders can struggle with correctly identifying specific birds by listening to their songs and calls. I myself have spent years practicing and I still have a lot more to learn. Learning bird songs takes patience, discipline and lots of practice.

The best way to begin learning bird calls is by starting in your own backyard. You are probably already familiar with the types of birds that frequent your bird feeder so it should be easy to identify their calls. By starting in your backyard you are also eliminating excess noise that you may not be familiar with. Listening to one or two calls at a time is much easier than dumping yourself into a forest full of chatty birds.

Listen to recordings

Listening to recordings of bird songs and calls can help you familiarize yourself with the sounds. There are tons of online resources that you can use for free. One of my favorite sites to explore is http://www.naturesongs.com/birds.html.Start by listening to calls that belong to the birds you already see regularly and pretty soon you will build your own repertoire of calls and songs.


Watching birds sing helps to create the connection between the sound and the bird. Even if you have the best of tutors, nothing beats actually seeing a bird make the noise you are trying to identify. This is also why starting in your own backyard can be helpful.

Use Mnemonics

When you hear a call or a song that reminds you of something else write it down. Some calls may sound screeching tires or that catchy song on the radio. Identifying a new sound with something you are already familiar with can help aid your memory when you hear the call or song again. Keep your list of mnemonics close to you so you can reference it whenever you need. I personally feel like some of the shrill and grating calls of the reed warbler sound similar to a ratcheting socket wrench.
Learning bird songs and calls can be very frustrating at times and it can be very easy to get discouraged. Frustration only makes the learning process more difficult and it makes your experience much less enjoyable. The best thing to do when you begin to feel that way is to take a break and let yourself enjoy nature and the birds in it.

Thank you, Ernie. These are helpful to those of us who enjoy birds but are not bird watchers. The guide you linked to is a good one.


  1. There are at least 10 types of birds in my yard. But their songs were difficult to be recorded. However, some birds like the magpies do sing songs that sound similiar or familiar to certain dialectic words. It was just fun then.


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