It will only be another few months before the snow melts away and temperatures rise. In what is the most exciting time of the year for birders, the spring often arrives much faster than many of us anticipate.
As the flowers bloom, we are treated to a new chapter of life as our summer migrants begin to arrive here in the Ottawa area. With that arrival comes one of the true signs of the spring, the peaceful morning songs of our favourite feathered friends.
While many of us have spent years perfecting species identification using our eyes or binoculars, the art of birding by ear is something that eludes most of us. A true specialty in terms of bird watching skills, learning to identify birds using our ears is something that requires ample practice but is rewarding all in itself.
Much the same as physical identification, while trying to learn the calls and songs of birds, specialization is the name of the game. Start with a familiar group of birds that are local to your area and use online field guides and other resources to hear their songs.
For example, we like to group birds into categories such as songbirds, warblers and/or bug eaters. In doing this, you are not only familiarizing yourself with each of these birds, you are learning to decipher their songs from one another, which are in many ways, quite similar.
Location, Location, Location
Just like the real estate game, birding is all about location. Finding a specific species is often as easy as knowing where to find that specific species. Once again turning to your trusty field guide, find out what kind of birds should be found in your area and then listen to their associated songs.
Aside from geological factors such as swamps, marshes, hardwood lots or fields, you can also tell a lot about a bird from the direction of the song. Is it being sung from high up in the treetops or somewhere on the ground? These are clues that will often unlock many of the mysteries of birding by ear.
While not the entire intention of birding by ear, if and when you can use a physical specimen to match a song, you are that much further ahead. We often tell folks to try and spot the bird and identify as best they can. After that, continue to observe and listen to the calls and songs to attach that song to that particular bird.
While not always possible, this is one of our favourites as it really does teach you a lot about the bird you are looking at and these mental images will often stay with us for years to come, only triggered by that specific call or song.