Discovering backyard bird songs

When I hear this particular type of bird sing, I know its name. To my ears, the sound is lovely, although the word is not. Oddly, the two – sound and word – are said to be one for this specific bird: the killdeer.

If you hear a bird call and wonder about its name, The Backyard Birdsong Guide: Western North America by Donald Kroodsma likely will prove to be a valuable resource, as well as a pleasing one. This volume presents introductory information on seventy-five birds in tandem with an attached digital audio module, making it possible both to read about and listen to the songs and calls of a variety of birds. I appreciated this combination of text and sound, finding it easy and enjoyable to expand what I know about the birds I often see and hear.

A second title offering audio recordings of birds along with text about them is Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song by Les Beletsky. This volume covers a greater range geographically and represents a larger number of birds, allowing those who read and listen to explore roughly a third of the species found in North America. For me, the illustrations in this work were an added benefit, being especially beautiful.

Lastly, here’s a place to start for anyone new to learning about birds: The Little Book of Backyard Bird Songs by Andrea Pinnington and Caz Buckingham is an excellent way to begin listening and looking. While this book is designed for kids, adults also are likely to enjoy playing these twelve recordings, and perhaps memorizing each bird’s sound, as well. I certainly did.

Having learned about birds by listening, as well as looking, I now know when I am hearing a mourning dove or (more rarely) an owl, even before I arise in the early morning. Often when I’m arriving at the library, I hear a killdeer – and now I know its name, even without seeing the bird itself (or agreeing completely that this bird’s name spells out its call).

There is joy to be found in learning to recognize birds not just by their appearance, but also by their sounds. Do you also hear (and know) the killdeer’s call outside the library? Is there another bird call you would like to be able to name?

Comments

Thank you Laura for reminding me of these books. I like to think I am pretty good at identifying birds by sound but there is a bird out by where I live that I have never heard before and I cannot figure out what it is. I've tried numerous websites but my search has left me empty handed. Maybe one of these books will help me discover what the mystery bird is I keep hearing flying over me at night.

Hi Cassandra! I wonder if you are hearing a mockingbird or a whip-or-will? Your comment reminded me of these lines from Wendell Berry's poem, "To Know the Dark," and I thought you might like them: "Go without sight and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings/ And is traveled by dark feet and dark wings."

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