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Redwood Dawn Chorus 5/22/22
00:00 / 01:35

So....your local dawn chorus is NOT the best time to begin earbirding, but it is an amazing experience and may motivate you to try the following suggestions. With some practice, you can identify most of the birds in this beautiful mess!

Consider listening with headphones:)

If you're new to earbirding, one of the best thing that you can do for yourself is to listen closely to the birds you hear at home and on walks and start trying to mentally describe their songs with words.  This will give you some scaffolding for trying to ID and remember them, and will help when you pick your habitat choice on this website to find out what matches.  Here are some descriptive words used in my attempts to tell you what a bird song sounds like: 

squeaky, rising/falling/same pitch, bubbly, buzzy, scolding, whistle, melodic, trill, repeated phrase, fluting, warbly, beeping, rasping, and ratchety.  


Another great help is to use the Voice Memos app on your phone to record the bird, and then, later, use this website or a bird ID app (see below) to identify it.  If using this website, go to the appropriate habitat page and give them a listen.  You can also check the pages where the songs are grouped by type ("Similar Songs Compared"), like warbled or trilled/chatterd, and jump straight to that group for help.  (Another great, free recording app is Voice Record Pro.  It's very sensitive on its default settings, but you can make it even more sensitive once you hit the red "record" button by moving the slider knob labeled "INPUT GAIN" to the right.  Doing that will record all of the sounds at a louder level. ) 


If you have an idea or guess as to what type of bird you're hearing, another great resource is to download a free app like iBird.  Enter the bird's name in the app and you'll get a sample of songs and calls, descriptions, photos, and great information.  It will also give suggestions for similar sounding birds, or similar looking birds, a truly amazing resource.

And then there is the relatively recent creation of apps that you allow you to simply point your phone at a bird song, and the app will list the birds that it identifies by sound.  I personally like a free app called "Merlin Bird ID" by the Cornell Bird Lab.  It's incredibly helpful due to generally being correct, but there are a couple of things about it that beginning birders will find distracting:

  • -->The Merlin app will give you a a list of every bird it detects, and it is indeed remarkably sensitive.  If there are several birds out there, and you don't know birds at all, it can be a bit overwhelming.  The upside is that if the bird keeps singing, you can watch the app highlight the bird name as the song repeats.  You can also tap on the name that the app came up with, and the app will flip the sonogram to where it first ID'd the bird, and you can play that segment over and over.  You can also listen to other people's recordings of the birds on the list it identifies to help you pick out which sound you recorded as belonging to which bird.

  • --> It does occasionally give a mistaken identity, but it's very accurate with commonly heard birds.  A complicating factor is that a few closely related birds can have a lot of overlap in their song structures and give you a false ID.  The warblers are the group that both humans and apps struggle with the most in this regard.

And one last, great tip is that some bird songs really lend themselves to mnemonic phrases, like, "who, who cooks for you" (Barred Owl)the Olive-sided Flycatcher's, "drink 3 beers", or the Black-capped and Mountain Chickadees, "cheese-burger".   And some songs or calls may remind you of something like being scolded (our chickadees), or of a coach's whistle (Varied Thrush), or of a wine cork twisting in a bottle (Black-throated Gray Warbler).  Invent your own, and pass them on to me!



PHONES: Recent models of phones have remarkably sensitive microphones in them, and you can record birds with the Voice Memos app that comes pre-loaded on iPhones.  A much much better choice would be to download the free Merlin Bird ID app because it will not only record, but will give also you a list of birds that it hears.  It also shows your location and date, useful for keeping track of what you hear, and you can email the sound file to someone else, or to yourself for storage on a desktop.  


Another great free phone app is Voice Record Pro.  It won't ID birds for you, but it does have a decibel (loudness) meter and a gain control slider that boosts the volume (along with any background and electronic noise, the latter of which is inherent in all recording equipment and can be filtered out fairly easily with an audio editing app (discussed below).  

RECORDERS:  Cornell Bird Labs has lots of advice about all aspects of recording bird sounds, but a recorder/microphone combo that I love is the Zoom H2n.  The H2n model has 5 different excellent quality microphones built into it that you can use to record in stereo or surround sound, can record in different file types, and has output connections for using with headphones or downloading to a computer.  You can also plug another microphone into it.  (This is the recorder that I use to record the sounds that my parabolic dish mic picks up).  The imbedded mics are also great for recording friends and relatives with, and for making high quality stereo nature soundscapes.  They cost around $160.  Further information can be found on Zoom's website (NOT the same company that makes the Zoom app for meetings). 

PARABOLIC DISH MICROPHONES:  There are currently only 2 places that I know of that sell decent quality parabolic mics.  Unfortunately, they're pretty expensive.  Wildtronics' full-sized "pro" dishes (22in) start at a mono model (as opposed to stereo) setup for $760(on sale), and going up to $1,330(on sale) for an amplified stereo rig.  They also have a full-sized dish/mic that has a cheaper microphone in it for around $500, and half-sized, 11inch models (their "mini") for $325 to $500.  I've owned their mini model since March, 2023.  It's much better than just using a phone, but not nearly as good as my larger dish for pulling bird songs in closer. 


The full-sized 22in dish that I use is made by a company called Telinga, and I love it.  Various review sites like both Wildtronics Pro and Telinga models.  Below is a link to Wildtronics, and to the seller of the Telinga dish located in England.  Remember that if you buy a dish/mic, you also need to buy a recorder!

FINAL NOTE: If you're a total newbie to audio recording and not sure where you'll want to head with it, consider starting with your phone and the Zoom H2n mic/recorder (not used together).  You'll be able to record great soundscapes, close birds, and interviews, get a handle on audio editing, and see if you want to use a dish.  Your budget will tell you where to land.  That said, I'd strongly suggest that if you do buy a dish/mic, go with a stereo model.  There are easy ways to flip a mono recording to stereo in an audio editing app, but over the years of using it and listening to the recordings, you'll wish you'd bought stereo.



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