“Looking” at Similar Songs

Learning birdsong can be quite a challenge! For some, mnemonics work quite well, i.e. the familiar “sweet-sweet-shredded wheat!” of a Yellow Warbler singing from a roadside thicket. For others (myself included) visualisation is perhaps the key element to learning each song and getting ’em glued into the memory bank.

Personally speaking, I find studying the audio spectrogram of the song I’m looking to learn more about extremely useful and a great learning tool. Take, for example, these three spectograms taken from the website, Xeno Canto. Regarding reading the spectrogram: pitch is shown vertically (y-axis) and time is shown horizontally (x-axis). Volume is shown by the intensity of black (pitch black denotes high volume; translucent black denotes low volume) and tonal quality is shown by the shape and size of the notes; i.e. a Baltimore Oriole’s flute-like notes would appear thin and crisply-outlines, and a Yellow-throated Vireo’s husky notes would appear thick and blurry.

Bird song graphic
Photo: A comparative audio spectrogram of similar-sounding songs, from top to bottom: Scarlet Tanager, American Robin, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Note the powerful, husky, fast-sequenced song of a Scarlet Tanager; the relatively soft, flute-like, slower-paced song of an American Robin; and the strong, fast-paced, well-defined harmonic notes of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Reference Numbers: Scarlet Tanager (XC20432), American Robin (XC131877), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (XC134869).

Link to Xeno Canto: http://www.xeno-canto.org/