Birding Resources: Bird Sounds Organized by Similarity?

Hi all,

I’ve been birding for a few years, and as I get ready for the spring migration in the Northern Hemisphere, I’ve been studying up my bird songs and calls. As I’ve been doing this, I’ve started thinking about different resources that would help me (and others) in the journey to learn. One hypothetical resource that keeps coming to mind is some kind of organizational system for looking at bird songs and calls based on their similarities. Instead of being grouped based on Genus, why not organized based on if the song is a trill, or metallic, or fluted? That way when encountering a song like that of a Pine Warbler, I can quickly look to see ah yes, it also might have been a Dark-Eyed Junco, or Chipping Sparrow.

Does anyone know if this sort of resource is available? If not, I might go about seeing if I have someway to create it during this time of COVID quarantine.

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Donald J Borror’s “Songs of Eastern Birds” had the songs and calls of birds organized this way. Originally published a very long time ago (I used to have the cassette tapes), I think you can still find this on CD. Hope that helps.

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@oops Welcome to the community! I hope @sttpgh answered your question. Thank you for asking, I hadn’t even thought of something like that. That would help me so much!

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Nathan Pieplow’s Field Guides to Bird Sounds to Eastern/Western North America are excellent. They have two sections in them. One is grouped by species and shows all the sounds for each species. The other is indexed by the type of sound, so you can look up all species that make that sound. Here is an example:

The recordings that go with the books are available online:
https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/peterson-field-guide-to-bird-sounds/

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I’ve wondered about this book, but your example image seems to show me exactly what I was looking for! What has your experience with the book been? Do you feel like it’s visualizations of bird sounds have helped you learn? Or have they felt hard to translate?

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I got it a couple of years ago when I was still relatively new to birding. It went completely over my head at the time, but I’ve gone back to it since then.

I think you definitely need to be familiar with the commons species in your area first. To get started with the spectograms, you need some sample sounds to look at that you already know really well. But once you know the basics, this is great for finding similar sounds, or picking out what differences to listen for, etc.

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The Peterson’s Birding by Ear CDs do that, if you can find them. There were three sents, Eastern, Advanced Eastern, and Western. Each set had three CDs. The narrator described what you were hearing and discussed how they were similar and different. Then there were several quizzes at the end.

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Welcome to the forum!

The two guides by Nathan Pieplow are excellent if one takes the time to really digest at least the introductory material. All of the recordings used in the references are available to listen to online as well, which is a huge resource. Cornell’s Macauley has a sound analysis software, Raven lite, which is free and can be used to produce your own spectrograms for recordings you might make with your own digital recording device (e.g. iPhone). Also, if you happen to be an iPhone user, there are a couple of older apps called Larkware Learn Bird Songs that offer learning tools similar to those of Rosetta Stone, where you have sounds associated with certain images, and various quizzes testing your ability to discern similar song types.

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When I was a kid I used the Golden field guide by Robbins et al. that included sonograms for many bird songs. I learned them as I was learning the common bird songs, and that eventually led to an ability to read the sonograms to some extent and get an idea what an unfamiliar bird sounds like. Pipelow’s guides offer a similar opportunity with much more accompanying information. And as others have said, the Peterson Birding by Ear CDs are arranged by song type, if you can lay your hands on those.

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I have a set of the Eastern Birding by ear, and they were extremely thorough on the birds that they covered and helped improve my birding by ear quite a bit. I think there are a few sets on ebay…

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I too have looked several times for the type of resource you are describing as I have been learning to bird by ear. The closest thing I’ve found is this key, which is far from complete.
I also found that using the ebird sound quiz was very helpful, as it shows the live spectrogram as you are hearing it. I know it doesn’t organize birds by sound similarity, but you can personalize it for your location, which very handy for learning local birds.
If you do make a key or guide organized by sound, xeno-canto is a great website to get open source audio recordings for nearly any bird.

Good luck!

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Thank you so much! These are some good resources. I’ve never heard of xeno-canto before, and it looks like its an amazing source for bird sounds! Very exciting.

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