Ten More Easy Bird Songs You Know

By Scott Shalaway
THE KEY to learning bird songs is to build confidence by learning the easy songs first.

Recently I reviewed 10 common species that everyone who reads this column surely recognizes, even if they don’t realize it. This week I’ll describe the songs of 10 more birds that are easy to learn. It’s just a matter of knowing how to listen.

The American Robin is probably the most easily recognized bird in North America thanks, in large part, to its habit of hunting for worms in backyards.
Despite its familiarity, many people have never connected the bird to its loud, liquid, repetitious song. Listen for it early in the morning on the way to work and in the evening before dusk. It’s a lively song that, once learned, is difficult to ignore — “cheerily, cheer-up, cheerio.”

Arguably the most stunning bird in the eastern deciduous forest, the Scarlet Tanager, can be surprisingly difficult to see because it usually stays in the tree tops. Its song’s structure suggests a robin — repetitious, conversational phrases. But while a robin’s voice is clear and musical, a Scarlet Tanager’s tone is raspy. Many birders say the Scarlet Tanager’s song sounds like a robin with a sore throat.

Another easily recognized bird is the Northern Cardinal. Its crested head and bright red plumage make it familiar to even young school children. Its song can be complex and varied, but there is always a common component. Cardinal songs almost always contain slurred whistles. One of the most common songs in a cardinal’s extensive repertoire is a loud, “purdry, purdy, purdy.”

The boss at every backyard feeder is the Blue Jay. It’s big, loud and aggressive, and sometimes blue jays bully smaller birds. Blue Jays often announce their arrival vocally. They are excellent mimics and have an impressive array of songs and calls. The easiest to recognize are the loud, “jay, jay, jay,” and the softer and more peculiar, “queedle, queedle, queedle.”

Red-eyed Vireos are among the most common song birds in the eastern deciduous forest. Like Scarlet Tanagers, red-eyes stay in the tree tops, but unlike tanagers, their drab markings make them difficult to identify even if they pop into view. But they are vocally distinct. Red-eyed Vireos sing short, repetitious, conversational phrases. Often they sing continuously for minutes at a time, stopping only occasionally to catch their breath. For this reason, Red-eyed Vireos are sometimes called “preacher birds.”

The Eastern Towhee song is one of the easiest to master. With its black head and rufous sides, a towhee resembles a robin and is sometimes called a ground robin. The towhee song is a loud invitation to, “drink your tea!” And one of its call notes suggests its own name: “ta-wee.”

Carolina Wrens nest in empty cans, buckets, old boots and abandoned mail boxes. Their white eye line and rich brown color distinguishes them from the smaller mousey brown House Wrens that will return in about a month. Carolina Wrens sing loud triple notes — “tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle,” or “chirpity, chirpity, chirpity.”

Chipping Sparrows inhabit backyards all across the continent. They like open lawns with scattered evergreen shrubs. Look for these plain-breasted, rusty-capped sparrows to return by mid April. Their song is a distinctive, high-pitched, monotone trill.

In a few weeks the evening skies in towns and cities across America will be swept for flying insects by Common Nighthawks, dark robin-sized birds with bold white wing bars. Look for them at ball games just after the lights come on. And as they soar, listen for a distinctive nasal, “peent.”

The final bird in this week’s lesson is the Yellow Warbler, a common warbler as likely to been seen flying across a country road as on a nature trail. When Yellow Warblers return in a few weeks, listen for them along forest edges, in old fields and near wetlands. The song is pure and rapid, “Sweet, sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet.” –Pittsburgh Post Gazette

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more instruction, consult the excellent CDs in “Birding by Ear” and “More Birding by Ear” (Houghton Mifflin’s Peterson Field Guide Series).