Birding by Ear – A Novice

I have a very hard time finding/spotting small flitty birds when I’m out birding. I would love to be one of those amazing birders who can recognize bird song and know what they are hearing even though they may not be able to spot them. Sure I know the basics in my area such as Mourning Doves, Robins, Crows, and Magpies, but it seems that every year I have to refresh my memory of birds as distinctive as Junco’s and Western Tanagers.

idaho bird guideA couple of years ago my sister Melinda came up from Texas and we birded a host of environments near my place in Idaho. Because we were birding new locations based on the book The Idaho Bird Guide: What, Where, When by Dan Svingen and Kas Dumroese. I had a list of the birds expected to be present.

ibirdproUsing that list we were able to identify those hidden birds by their songs/calls/chirps. Our process was to listen to the bird then roll up all the windows and listen to what we thought it might be on our phones. We used the iBird Pro app for birdsong.  It was an awesome discovery. We were able to use the book to narrow the possibilities and then practice listening to the live bird and then the app. We spent almost every day birding somewhere so by the end of the week I knew a couple of flycatcher and warbler songs. Sadly, they didn’t stick.

This year, Melinda came out again and we spent another week birding (except for the three days embedded in a seashell project). In any case, this time we knew the process and the songs have stuck quicker and better. I think it’s time to up my game another notch by downloading the songs I know or sortof know to a playlist to practice. This way I’m not trying to learn ALL OF THE SONGS which is overwhelming, but practicing those that I hear frequently. Give me ten more years and maybe I will be one of those birders who knows birdsong.

I have the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs but I might be able to download the Cornell versions too.  I think it would be good to hear the western regional variations.  We’ll see how this goes.

— Jenny


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