Saturday, August 1, 2009

Recogonizing Bird Sounds

I have several feeders just outside a large bay window, the width of my kitchen, that overlooks my back yard. Generally, I keep the side-windows open so that I can hear the various birds that visit. I realized today, that I am able to recogniz several birds, by sound alone. Who knew?! (oh, that black netting you see on the window is my 'Bird-bash Protection'...and it works!)

Lately I hear a lot of hummingbirds buzzing around in their territorial and blustery wars, emitting soft chirps and squeeks when they manage to feed.

Also quite noisy are the small finches; Pine Siskins, House Finch, American and Lesser Goldfinches and of course House Sparrows whose numbers in my yard seem to have exploded. This light, back-ground noise is really quite sweet.

I am not impressed with the guttural growling of the ubiquitous Eurasian Collared-dove and much prefer the soft cooing of our native Mourning Doves, which, when I hear them, I go to the window (slowly) to watch them. They’re a lot smaller than the interlopers, and don’t come here as often as they once did. They’re nearly the same length, but ‘our’ doves are much more svelte and weigh only half as much. And they sound like doves rather than a broken chain-saw.

The past few weeks, I’ve heard a bird that took me nearly a month to discover last year. The Western Wood-Pewee’s sound is a plaintive ‘peeeer’, which it calls incessantly. I’ve watched the little flycatcher on a naked branch overlooking the street or my yard. From this vantage point, it sallies out and catches various bugs that are unfortunate enough to fly by. This ‘hawking’ behavior is common with flycatchers; it’s how they hunt. When I first heard this bird last July, it took awhile to get a photograph of it; but it was the Arizona Field Ornithologists Sound Library that helped me identify the bird. Each flycatcher seems to have a distinctive call, I knew I had a Western Wood-Pewee by listening to their recording of the bird.
Listen here.

The other bird that caught my ear, so to speak, was one that I generally see earlier in the year. I’ve not heard its sweet ‘peep’ for some months, but when I heard the bird from another room, I had to make a bee-line to the window. And there they were; Evening Grosbeaks! You can get a hint of what they sound like at the same sound library here, but I’ve also included a little video clip I found on YouTube:

Funny thing about bird calls. Just because birds are similar doesn’t mean they’ll sound at all alike. A Red-winged Blackbird sounds like the squeaky gate, but the Yellow-headed one sounds like a sick cat…or even that darn Eurasian Collared-Dove.

I’ve learned to know when I have Bullock’s Orioles at my feeders in two ways. One is the gentle ‘thump’ I hear when it lands on the hummingbird feeder outside my window. I’ve drilled out the holes in the feeder to accommodate these bigger guys…and they love it. The other sound I hear and know one is in the yard is the scolding chatter one gives when someone else is using the feeder. You can hear that sound here. The first time I heard it, I nearly thought it was a Flicker!

Perhaps one of the prettiest sounds I hear is from the Black-headed Grosbeak. This big-nosed bird sounds every bit as lovely as a robin! Listen…

Do visit AZFO's Sound Library... it's impressive and perhaps you'll learn to recognize birds you hear in your yard, too. I believe half of birding is knowing what to expect...but you have to know, by sight and sound, what that might be in your area, at a certain time of the year. Listening to bird-sounds is a good way to prepare.
Another pretty cool sound library I have was a CD, included with the new Smithsonian Field Guide to Birds of North America. Ted Floyd, editor of Birding Magazine, is the editor. The CD is awesome, but even though I got permission from Ted Floyd to use one, I can't figure out how to post a sound here. There are 587 bird songs...easily worth the cost of the book, alone!


Anonymous said...

I have a difficult time enough identifying them visually...nowhere near experienced enough to take my little hobby to the auditory level on more than a few birds.

Beverly said...

Oh, now, now. I bet you recognize more bird-calls than you realize. I don’t wander about with a microphone or some sort of listening device; it’s just that over-time I’ve come to know a few ‘regulars’. It's fun!

I know the high squeak of a Downy Woodpecker (though I’m never quite sure if it won’t be a Hairy one), the harsh warning cry of a Blue Jay, the sweet ‘cooing’ of the Mourning Dove from the harsh sounds of the Eurasian imports, Chickadees, Red-winged Blackbirds, Black-billed Magpies…and of course the Great Horned-Owl (when they’re around). These are all pretty easy…it wasn’t till I realized I also have come to know two of the Grosbeaks (I still don’t know the Rose-breasted sound), the Oriole and now that flycatcher, that I’m getting better with time.

Hey, I just hadda birthday…it’s always nice to realize I’m getting better with time! LOL

Good to see you, as always...

Bosque Bill said...

Speaking of recognizing sounds/songs, I was up in the Corrales bosque this morning and heard a song that I sort of recognized, but it wasn't quite right for Black-headed Grosbeak or Blue Grosbeak or Summer Tanager - all which have songs slightly similar. Then I saw a yellow & black bird with a red face... and I had a red face, too, as I'd not remembered the song of the Western Tanager.

I'd not realized that they migrate south quite this early in the season, but a couple of experts say they typically start moving in mid-July - one of the earliest migrants.

p.s., Happy Birthday!

Beverly said...

Hmmmmm…I’m going to go have to listen to a recording of the Western Tanager; I have no idea what it sounds like. I thought I saw one several weeks ago…but I must have been wrong (based on last year’s posts…it was too early); I’ve not seen one sense. Pretty birds; it’s wild that the red on their face is bug-dependent, huh?

I should have mentioned again that you are the one responsible for turning me onto AZFO's Sound Library. I love it…

While I’ve still got a yard-full of Black-headed Grosbeaks, I’ve never seen a Blue one, or a Summer Tanager. It amazes me what a few hours separation does to the birds we see!

Thanks for the birthday wishes!!! And, it’s always good to ‘see’ you here. I'll keep an eye out for the red-head...