Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Seven methods of identifying birds:
#4: Sounds

This post continues the discussion of the Seven methods of identifying birds.
[Answer to Quiz 3: Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers]


Some birds sing to attract a mate or declare their territory. Some birds have alarm calls, feeding calls, and flight calls--all different. In woodpeckers, drumming takes the place of song, and the drumming pattern of many woodpeckers are unique. Certain birds make distinctive sounds with their wings or tail feathers.

Some people do have poor hearing. But most people just need practice listening. You already know some bird sounds, even if it is only Old MacDonald who has a duck that goes "quack, quack." Build from there. Find a sound you don't recognize and track it down. Add it to your auditory birding repertoire.

Quiz) A deep, resonating, bubbly "oong-ka-loonk" coming from a grassy marsh in spring.

Next: Expectation: Status, Distribution, Habitat


  1. Great series. I enjoyed the quizes.

    There is a bird that has been in my neighborhood in NE Portland on somewhat rare occasion during this past month (may). I've tried to find it but have only heard it's song from high in some tree, and I've only heard in the afternoon. As best as I can describe the tune, it was a descending song of 5 sometimes 4 distinct tones: A, B, C, D, D. It was not fast like a chickadee, raspy like a song sparrow, nor wobbly like a robin.


  2. Thanks for the comments, Phillip. I am afraid I am unable to ascertain your bird song from your description. Golden-crowned Sparrow has a descending minor whistled song of 3 notes. Maybe White-throated Sparrow?

  3. Thank you, it seemed close to the white-throated sparrow, especially with the first evenly spaced descending notes, but without the quick notes near the end of the white-throated sparrow's song.

  4. I was at Sauvie Island today and I saw a chickadee singing the song! I didn't know that tune was in it's repertoire. According to the Cornell site: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-capped_Chickadee/sounds the "Pacific Northwest whistled song" is the one. Quite a bit of variation in the sounds it makes. I had only known the chick-a-dee-dee-dee

    And it seems I remembered it incorrectly when I wrote my first comment, because it's 3-4 notes not 4-5.

  5. There is quite a bit of variation in songs of most songbirds (those following flycatchers in your book). While non-song birds have innate, or inherited, songs that don't vary, song birds learn their songs and have much variation (with notable exceptions, like cowbirds).

    Many chickadees in the Pacific NW sing a whistled song of 4-5 notes all on the same pitch, different from most of the rest of North America.

  6. The bird you are describing is one that I have been trying to identify. My bird is like a golden crown sparrow with 4 (sometimes 5) distinct notes, evenly spaced and no quick notes at the end. Low, low, high, low. Sometimes it adds to high notes at one time and then the last low note. I wish I could figure it out.

  7. I enjoyed this article. I'm from Ohio and we have about 150 nests in Ohio. I monitor and photograph about 4 or 5 of them. My friend got close-up pictures of a Bald Eagle whose under tail covert feathers that are spread out and white as snow. It's beautiful and I searched the internet to see if I could find other pictures that show these feathers spread like this. I couldn't find any. More information? Patsy