Imagine being able to walk through any habitat and instantly know which bird species are there, even if you can’t see them?
Birding by ear is a skill that anyone can learn with enough practice and persistence.
If you’re a completely novice birder, you can simply start by paying close attention to the sounds of the birds in your very own yard.
There might be three or four species, each with their own unique calls and sounds. Some species make just a small number of sounds or variations in calls, while others have a vast repertoire of calls, songs, sounds, and even mimicking the sounds of other birds (which can really make things tricky, at first).
Even if you’ve only recently decided to take up birding as a more serious hobby, you’re very likely to already have some familiarity to the more common birds in your local area. Even people with no interest in birds (so they say) can recognize the most common “daily” birds that might be heard in the background of everyday life.
Obviously, these will vary depending on the country you live in, and the region you live.
Bird sounds are one of the great comforts of being home for many people, and when you move to or visit a far away place where there are no bird calls that are familiar to you, things can feel very alien indeed. When your understanding and recognition of bird calls grows over time, your bird world opens up more and you’ll start to seek out different habitats and locations to discover even more new and fascinating species and their calls.
To hone your birding ear, you need to be consistent. Just like a new piano player must practice regularly in order to enhance skills and not lose the instinctive playing skills that have been built up over time, so too must a birder attempt to spend as much time as possible with the birds so that their songs and sounds become second nature to you.
Eventually, you’ll have a memory bank of dozens of bird calls that you can recall instantly without a thought.
If you’re just starting out, this can seem an almost impossible thing to imagine happening – but happen it will! We all start somewhere and unlike learning a musical instrument, you won’t have to wait years and years before you can consider yourself a proficient bird call identifier.
There is a daunting conundrum that new birders are faced with when it comes to learning bird calls: how can I learn which bird is calling if I can’t see the bird that’s making the call?