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Learning bird song from recordings

Paul Laurie

Cassette tapes and CD recording of bird song are of very high quality and you can purchase almost any bird song in the World. As a tool to help birders learn common British bird song they are extremely useful. Most birders however find them frustrating to use and gain the knowledge from them very slowly. This is because of the method that many birders use. We tend to put on a bird song CD and listen while reading distracts our attention, thinking about our next field trip or even doing a few household chores. This is a method that will slow the learning process and discourage the birder.

How to use bird song recordings to help bird identification

Corn Bunting singing
Corn Bunting singing © Martin Best, WildPix Photography

Purchase bird recordings that are relative to the field trips you take. If you are a birder with only a little knowledge of bird song purchase a garden & park recording that will have common and familiar species that you will find on a regular basis.

Do not listen to the whole recording, CDs are very useful as you have far more control over the species you listen to and you can preset the CD to play particular species.

Allow yourself fifteen to twenty minutes to listen to two or three species. For example start with the thrushes, listening to the recordings of Blackbird, Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush.

Make sure you are aware of which you are listening to and as you listen have your field guide open to the page on each species. Look at the picture of the species you are listening to and read the notes describing the birds song, as this will help you retain the song for a longer period than if you just listen to the recording.

Concentrate on the same two or three species for the first three or four sessions and try to listen to the same species for real in the garden or local park.

Once you have mastered the first two or three species move on to a completely different family such as the Phylloscopus warblers, Willow Warbler & Chiffchaff. Once you have mastered these two move on to a new species and so on until you are familiar with 25 - 35 species.

If you begin this method during the late autumn or winter there will be few birds in song. It is best to start this method in the spring when many birds are in song and you can test your new found knowledge more easily.

The recording will also help with contact calls and alarm calls.

Paul Laurie runs birdwatching tours in Norfolk through his Bird ID Company. Paul is also currently writing a book on birdwatching and this article is taken from part of a chapter on bird song - we will bring you full details of the book when it is published.