Birding by ear – A good birding method for new or experienced birders

birding listening by earBirding by Ear is an activity many people do unintentionally.  Whether it is awakening to the dawn chorus or noticing the calls of birds in the backyard while fixing a car or raking a lawn, most people have sudden moments of unexpected appreciation for bird calls and songs.  There are those though who go to what I call the next level, which is being able to identify the bird based on its call.  Perhaps there are a few birds that they recognize with ease, such as the raucous screeching of the Blue Jays, or the harsh barking of an American Crow, or the more delicate name calling of the Black Capped Chickadee.  Each backyard hosts a variety of birds and each species is readily identifiable.

From this elementary level, it is possible to elevate in several directions of mastery.  For example, in the spring, hordes of young birdwatchers from Europe spend thousands of dollars to descend upon the New Jersey shore.  These foreign birders eagerly anticipate lying on the ground at night and listening to the calls and identifying the migrating warblers passing overhead.

Another direction for bird listeners is taking a scientific approach to breeding patterns.  By listening carefully to the composition of individual bird song, the bird listener can identify repeated patterns, patterns that may also be repeated by other birds of the same species.  By matching the patterns, the scientist can draw conclusions about nesting behavior, territory, and distances traveled by fledglings in search of new territories.

Similarly, each spring, the truly talented bird listeners with remarkably sensitive hearing will take part in the Breeding Bird Atlas studies.  These birders have mastered the myriad of calls sung by birds that breed in their regions.  They stand on pre-assigned spots early in the morning and wait to hear the calls.  By noting the species and the number of birds in each species they can report back on the breeding populations of each species.

Me – I am taking great satisfaction in hearing my 8 year old son responding with his “Tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea” when he hears the Carolina Wren outside his bedroom window and watching him and his little friends calling back and forth “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all.”

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