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Bird Songs: The Sounds of Love

When humans fall in love, we often have a musical soundtrack that plays in our minds. Many couples have “their song” that defines the moment they fell in love or reminds them of why they fell in love in the first place. Well, we must have “bird brains” because birds evolved the ability to do this first.

American Robin

A sure sign of spring is the explosion of birdsongs. Songs are produced by male birds trying to secure territory for their nests or to impress females. Females choose a mate, based on his singing abilities and the number of songs he can sing. Studies have shown that song quality can be an honest indicator of bird health.


Female birds also use sound to communicate – in forests, sound is the obvious choice due to how complex forest habitats often are. Birds might find it hard to see one another through the trees, birds do not have a great sense of smell, and to taste or feel things they need to be touching it. So, they reach out to one another via songs or calls. Songs tend to be fuller, more complex phrases of notes, whereas calls are generally sound “bytes”.

There are some bird songs or calls that we can all identify, like the haunting yodel of male loons, the mournful “coowah, coooo, coooo, cooo” of mourning doves, or the “cheeeeese-burg-er” calls of black-capped chickadees. I suspect there are many other familiar songs and calls you often hear when you’re outdoors, but perhaps you can’t quite put a face to the sound.


A great way to connect with nature is to learn to identify birds, and the best way to do this is to learn to recognize them by their appearance, and to “bird by ear”. There is great joy in deep listening to birdsong – you begin to understand how they express themselves – and you begin to identify with them.


If you would like to take up birding, there are some excellent field guides, websites, and phone apps available. “The Backyard Birdsong Guide” – an audio field guide to Eastern and Central North America is an excellent choice for families. It features 75 common birds from our region, and 130 songs or calls. The sound quality is excellent! When you scroll through the sounds, you realize you have heard most of them before, you just didn’t concentrate on identifying what bird made the sound.


The book can be carried in your back pack on a hike, but avoid disturbing the birds by not playing the sounds too frequently, and turning the volume down


The nice thing about the book is that children have an easier time using it themselves than a phone app, and it still fits in a small backpack. If you prefer to use apps, the Merlin Bird ID app is excellent and free.


Here are a few websites to help you learn our local birds as well:


Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds Online: https://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds


Birds of North America – some content requires subscription https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/home


Photo credits: David McCorquodale (2021), view site.

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