BIRD WATCH: Learn your local birds’ songs

THE WEAKEST FEATURE in field guides is the description of a bird’s song or call.

Trying to put into words what a bird’s song sounds like is futile.

You feel like an idiot muttering phrases like, “see, see, see! Oh, I am so pret-tee!”

Even if you end up with a pretty good rendition of the song, it’s difficult to get the inflection correct.

Does it have an upward sweep or does it spiral downward?

Birds and their songs are hard to ignore in the spring.

They are singing everywhere, in your backyard or in the parking lots of large retail facilities.

Right now, the white-crowned sparrows are dominating the scene.

They aren’t shy about announcing their presence. In fact, they seem eager to do so. After all, it is the courting season.

He who sings the loudest and the best gets the ladies’ attention.

White-crowned sparrows can belt out songs with the best of them.

Every morning when Penny Dog and I walk down the drive to retrieve the morning paper, they serenade us.

Two singers have chosen territories fairly close to one another.

This no doubt accounts for the enthusiastic singing.

One hardly finishes before his competition bursts into song.

On the way back to the house, I can’t resist putting words to the melodies, like those above.

Other birders say it sounds like, “tea, tea, tea, come and drink your tea!”

There is a way to identify a bird by its song that isn’t found in most field guides.

Some guides have CD’s that come with them but the easiest way to become familiar with a bird song or even to identify a song you are hearing is to do an online search.

After several days of listening to the sparrows, I did this and got an unexpected shock.

I know that birds have regional dialects.

When it comes to some species, such as the white-crowned sparrow, their songs can differ greatly.

I listened to numerous renditions of the white-crown sparrow’s song.

They all sounded very different from one another.

At first, I thought the recordings must have been done on the East Coast.

Then, I saw that more than one was recorded in Oregon.

Even birds from different parts of Oregon sounded different from one another.

Makes you wonder just how many different dialects can be found among white-crowned sparrows.

Birds learn to sing.

Young males learn their song by listening to other adult singing males in the territories they share.

It’s important they get it right. Females aren’t about to become involved with a stranger that doesn’t sound quite right — like the males she is used to hearing.

In areas where both white-crowned sparrows and white-throated sparrows coexist, it’s important for a lady to know who she is attracted to. If he doesn’t sing like a white-crown she isn’t interested.

This wide range of different dialects seems more common among sparrows than it is in many others species.

A red-winged blackbird sounds like a red-wing whether it is from Washington or Kansas.

I have another reason for looking and listening to various bird voices online.

Some birdwatching in California is coming up and a particular bird is the focal point.

I have never seen a Lawrence’s goldfinch.

They look very different from the more familiar American goldfinch.

Birding in the spring means knowing who is singing.

Who is singing in the bushes or calling from the treetops? It just might be your target bird.

I now know that the Lawrence’s has a similar bursting your lungs song reminiscent of its cousin.

That will help because I know what the American goldfinch sounds like.

Here’s hoping the birds are where we hope to see them and that their spring songs will be in full voice.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: [email protected]

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