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Voices and Vocabularies - The Basics

Identify your avian neighbors without seeing them!

Birds’ voices invite us to step into nature and learn more about the singers. Hearing what’s distinctive in one bird’s voice – compared to another – helps us identify our avian neighbors without seeing them. Amazing! -- The differences between the songs of three marsh-dwellers: the brassy sound of the Red-winged Blackbird, the galloping rhythm of the Common Yellowthroat, and the sneeze of this Willow Flycatcher. 

Full Transcript



Voices and Vocabularies – The Basics

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

 [A sound mix that includes just the basic songs of Red-winged Blackbird, Willow Flycatcher, Common Yellowthroat – each song once] 

Three different birds are singing across a marsh. [Red-winged Blackbird, Willow Flycatcher, Common Yellowthroat] 

One bird’s voice comes across as a brassy “kon-ka-REE!” [Red-winged Blackbird song, twice]. A second sounds like a sneeze [Willow Flycatcher "fitz-bew", twice]. And a third voice has a galloping rhythm [Brisk Common Yellowthroat song]. 

Here are the three again, together. See if you can hear the differences. [Red-winged Blackbird, Willow Flycatcher, Common Yellowthroat] 

Congratulations! You’ve just made the essential step in learning how to recognize bird songs: hearing what’s distinctive in one bird’s voice, compared to another bird’s voice. 

So who are these three marsh birds we’ve been sorting out? The brassy voice belongs to a Red-winged Blackbird [Red-winged Blackbird song, twice]. A Willow Flycatcher made that sneezy “FITZ! bew” [Willow Flycatcher “fitz-bew,” twice]. And the repeated, galloping phrases? [Brisk Common Yellowthroat song] That’s the song of a Common Yellowthroat. 

Birds’ voices are an invitation. They invite us to get to know the singers better. And for a moment to step into nature. 

[Brisk Common Yellowthroat song twice]

Listen again, anytime, at I’m Michael Stein. 

[Red-winged Blackbird song]


Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Red-winged Blackbird #57196 recorded by W.W.H. Gunn. Willow Flycatcher #129025 recorded by M.J. Anderson. Ambient and Common Yellowthroat #163344 recorded by Matthew Medler.

BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and produced by John Kessler.

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

© 2014 Tune In to          March 2014         Narrator: Michael Stein


ID#  sound-12-2013-03-01   sound-12 

comment 1 Show

I found perusing your articles very interesting. I can relate to your approaches to learning bird song as an author of books on the subject. You may be interested in checking out my website, which includes some of your own approaches (eg. comparing Thrush songs), and groups bird songs according to habitat. I also list some suggestions for learning bird song. Nice to see your special interest in bird song being related in a teaching oriented fashion.


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