Practicing local bird songs

It is still the middle of winter, but when we listen, we can hear the first signs of spring. Some of our local songbirds have started to reclaim their territories. They have started to sing loudly, particularly in the early morning hours.

Now is a good time to remind yourself of the songs of local birds and practice recognizing them. This will give you a head start when the migrating songbirds return and join the full chorus. You will then be able to pick out any unfamiliar sound. As I mentioned in Monday’s blog post, our lab has produced some CDs to help you improve your birding by ear skills and here I suggest some links to recordings in the onlilne archive. Most of these recordings were made by Don Borror at Blendon Woods Metro Park in the 1960s.

Some of our local birds may sound quite similar to each other, e.g. songs of both the Northern Cardinal and the Carolina Wren can be a series of down-slurred notes, repeated a few times. The rhythm is quite different though, listen to the slow cardinal and the quick wren.

Northern Cardinal                                                             Carolina Wren

One of my favorite winter feeder birds is the Carolina Chickadee. These tiny birds zip tirelessly in and out from your feeder. Watch them closely, because they may cache some of the sunflower seeds for later consumption. When you travel further north in Ohio (e.g. into the Cleveland area), the familiar 4-note song will change to the 2-note “Hey sweetie” of the Black-capped Chickadee, the closely-related, northern-living counterpart.

Carolina Chickadee                                                           Black-capped Chickadee

Within the family of finches, two species commonly visit our winter feeders and reside in our gardens: the brightly colored House Finch, the male with its rosy red around the face and upper breast, and the now drably colored American Goldfinch. The males of this species change into their brightly yellow and black plumage later in the year, they are in no hurry since they commonly do not start breeding until July. The songs of the two finch species are quite different but have a common, “finch-like” quality.

House Finch                                                              American Goldfinch

NOTE: Bird songs are visually represented in sonograms with frequency (analogous to perceived pitch) in Hertz on the vertical axis and time (in seconds) on the horizontal axis.

About the author: Angelika Nelson is curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics at The Ohio State University.

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