BIRD APPS & ADVICE
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, 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.  

 

One step up and 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 to identify it.  If using this website, go to the appropriate habitat page and give them a listen.  Eventually, I'll also have pages where the songs are grouped by type, like bubbly, trilled, beeping, etc, and you can 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 the faint 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 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.

  • -->The other main problem with all of the ID apps is that they're not perfect yet, as alluded to earlier ("...generally being correct..."), and can come up with some incorrect ID's.  That can be tough for beginners, but if you use some of the ideas from the first paragraph, you can minimize most of the problems.  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!