Monday, June 26, 2006

Bird IDs by Ear

When we think about birding, we usually mean “birdwatching,” that is, looking at birds to identify them. However, many birds, especially those DLB’s (Darn Little Birds) defy a visual identification. Many of the DLB’s I try to find deliberately taunt me, flying away again just as I get them into view and try to focus my binoculars. I hear them laughing and twittering about having fooled me again in the branches above my head. Therefore, when I talk to people about birding, I recommend trying to learn birdsong as part of the identification process. My husband bought some CD’s to help. One set has about 25 backyard birds, and the other has about 85 different kinds of birds. I play them in the car while driving to work and it not only makes the drive more pleasant, but helps me learn the songs while sitting in the air conditioning. I’ve listened to that CD so many times by now, that I’m never quite sure if the live bird is one I heard on the disc, or the recorded bird is one I heard live! Some of the birds I knew already, such as Robins, Cardinals, and Blue Jays. Others just confused me the first time I heard them, such as many of the wrens and woodpeckers. I really enjoy some of the mnemonics associated with particular birds. I had heard “Oh Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada” on the CD. While in Lexington, I actually heard it coming from the trees near my daughter’s parking lot. No one understood what I was so excited about. I had to put the CD back in and listen through the whole thing again until I found the White Throated Sparrow. I now know that Americans usually remember it as “Oh Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” instead. The Field Sparrow sounds like a dropping ping pong ball, which speeds up as it hits the floor each time. I never saw one of these sparrows in New Harmony, IN, but heard them in the fields near the river. I may never see a Red-eyed Vireo, but I now recognize them every time I walk in the woods. The real frustration about birdsong is the individuality the birds put into it. The CD admits that birds in different regions sing the basic song differently, so I may be hearing a Carolina Wren with a Southern accent. They play a basic Oriole, then four other variations that sound completely different to my ear. I spend a lot of time second guessing myself and getting very frustrated. I’ve heard of a new book Why Birds Sing, written by a musician. His conclusion is that birds sing for the joy of it! They certainly add enjoyment to my day, so I can go along with this!

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