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Recognizing bird calls

Who's singing to you?

I love to hear the birds singing but I’m never quite sure what they’re saying to each other. Birders divide bird sounds into two categories: songs, which are generally complex mating songs; and calls, which are the other twitters and peeps that birds make.

Bird expert Doug Von Gausig has recorded birds around the world, and has a Web site with hundreds of audio samples. He says birds have various ways of communicating.

"Cardinals only sing their mating song during the mating season, and it’s a very complicated, beautiful song, and then the rest of the year, all they make are cheeps and chirps," says Von Gausig. "Other birds like white-crown sparrows, for instance, sing their song all year around, and they use it not only for mating, but they use it as a way of asserting their place in their particular flock."

Von Gausig provided some of his bird ecordings for us. Listen to the audio file below to hear them.

To start identifying feathered friends on your property, Von Gausig recommends flipping through a bird book and peeking at them with binoculars.

"I always advise people to start with birds that they already know visually that they’re already familiar with, so you’ve got Bobwhite quail in the East, you’ve got Gamble’s quail and California quail in the West, Bobalinks in the Midwest," says Von Gausig. "And once they learn the sound and associate with it, now they’ve got one, and maybe tomorrow they add Red-Winged Blackbirds to that. Then they just start getting it after a while."

Learn more:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Learn about more than 500 species of birds, browse photographs, and see maps of where the birds can be found.

What's in a bird song?: Learn how different birds make different songs, and what they really mean.

Attracting birds to your acreage: With the right combination of food, flowers, shelter and water, you can turn your property into a haven for songbirds.

Listen here to the radio mp3

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