The morning chorus is not overwhelming yet, but it is picking up in tempo and volume with each passing week. If you are an ‘early bird’ then you know birds begin to sing close to dawn. If you leave your bedroom windows open you will be serenaded awake. Recent research has shown that well fed birds are likely to sing more frequently, so keep those bird feeders filled no matter the season.
As for the songs themselves, there is a way to learn to recognize particular birds by translating their songs into words we can remember easily. This process is called Mnemonics. If you can get your brain to associate the lilting, tilting sound of American goldfinches in flight with ‘potato chips- potato chip dip” (and tie it in with their dipping style of flight), the next time you hear that sound, you won’t even have to look up – you’ll know there are goldfinches overhead. I have found this practice to be highly effective and helpful for identifying birds throughout the year, but spring time has the biggest rewards.
Here are some more bird songs and their human translation: Baltimore Oriole ‘here, here – come right here, dear’; Eastern Bluebird, ‘pew’; Indigo Bunting – ‘Fire, Fire. Where? Where? Here Here. See it? See it?’ The important clue with the bunting is to recognize the repetition of the four words. Rose-breasted Grosbeak – ‘cheer up – cheer a lee, cheer –ee-o’. You might notice that this particular phrase is similar to the robins and also to the Northern Cardinals, and it is easy to be confused. The Eastern Phoebe has an easily recognized and repetitive call; basically it repeats its name in a two phrase clip ‘feebee – feebee’ – and the second note is sung with a stuttering sound and upward in pitch. They repeat this two part song over and over throughout the day, except when they’re busy looking for nest sites or in the process of building them. An interesting fact about the Phoebe – it is a bird that is born knowing its song. Hand raised P hoebes that have never heard another of their kind, can still sing a perfect song. This is unlike most other species than need to hear males sing, before they can repeat it properly.
I have always tried to encourage people to learn the songs of birds – there are CD’s or tapes available with all the species we see in the summer. It seems an overwhelming task when you first listen to them, but if you pick out just a handful to learn, and listen to them repeatedly, they will lodge in your memory, even though they need refreshing each spring. I compare it to recognizing the voice of a friend on the telephone; someone who goes to Arizona every winter and whom you don’t speak to again until they return. There may be a slight pause as your brain scans its files, but then you recognize the voice.
One of the nicest aspects of springtime, besides the appearance of flowers and leaves, is the growing chorus of music outside our windows. Teaching ourselves to recognize the birds by sound as well as sight just adds to our pleasure and understanding of nature.