Originally Posted by Herona
Anyway, long story short: Is there some "trick" that you recognise birds by their songs? What would you recommend for me to do to successfully determine a bird by its song?
I believe it's a learned skill, so there should be techniques. I felt I had no talent at bird song recognition at all, yet I'm quite confident in my skills now when it comes to quite a number of song and calls I'm familiar with.
Unlike Jurek, whom I greatly respect, I don't think listening to recordings is particularly useful for a beginner. When their usefulness was discussed on a German forum quite a while back, a lot of people agreed that the recordings hadn't worked for them either.
I haven't tried or discussed Jurek's method of verbalizing bird song aspects yet, but a similar approach quite well for me as an aid in visual recognition, so it sounds good to me. The difficulty might be that in the beginning, you won't have a clear idea what to listen for and how to describe it.
Here my thoughts on technique:
- From the German forum: The brain usually learns bird song recognition very well if you find the bird in the field, identify it visually, and listen to the song. (Partially because in many cases, that's easier said than done, and if you manage to do it, it creates a memorable light-bulb effect.)
- From the German forum: Start learning birds voices in spring, when only a few species are singing and the situation is not so confusing yet.
- My own thought: Start by concentrating on rhythm. I believe it's a more robust characteristic than the melody.
- Don't try to learn to recognize complex songs at first. Try to recognize the songs of birds with simple songs and limited repertoire. Even that was hard for me at first, but I learned what to listen for in the process.
- If you can, go birding with someone who is good at identifying bird voices. Don't let the expert do it for you, but rather ask him/her to confirm your identifications. You'll reach the point where you'll do fine with the easier ones, and if you hear something you're sure you don't recognize, ask the expert for the identification. (I presume that at that point, you'll have a fair idea of what to listen for so that the information will actually help you.)
- In complex bird song, listen for key sequences. These are often pointed out by field guides.
- The letter transcriptions of bird song in field guides might seem totally nonsensical at first. They are actually useful: If you have to decide if the bird you have seen is one of two difficult to distinguish species, you can use the song or call you heard to match it against the transcription.
- Since Jurek mentioned it as part of the "second method": I wouldn't deliberately try to learn to recognize the "general tone" of any species. I believe that some ability of this type will gradually develop as the side effect of developing your identification skills.
- Try sonagrams, they're fun. No need to read up on the background, just run a real-time sonagram app on your smartphone and look at the display while you're talking, singing, whistling, making noises, or listening to music. The app will turn the sound into pictures, some of them quite nicely structured, and you'll quickly find out whether you like this kind of tool or not.