So you want to be a better bird call identifier? In this post, you'll learn how to visualize bird calls and sounds so you can later identify each species in the wild.
More reading: Must Have Bird Watching Gear
Be a Better Bird Call Identifier: See Their Songs
Before we get started, here's the concept
Want to play improve your skills? Play Bird Song Hero on AllAboutBirds.org by the Cornell Lab.
The new, visual way to learn bird songs.
Train your brain to recognize over 50 bird songs with the Bird Song Hero matching game.
Listen closely to featured songs and match each with the correct spectrogram visualization. You’ll be harnessing the power of the visual brain to help you identify the unique qualities of each song and commit sound patterns to memory.
Bird Song Hero is a fun way to practice the key skills you need to ID all the bird songs you’re curious about. ~ via The Cornell Lab
Visualize Bird Songs to Identify
Using a spectrogram to display time (left to right) and pitch (from high to low) it's easy to visualize the sound pattern of any bird. Brightness of the note on the spectrogram shows the volume.
Spectrograms stimulate the visual part of our brain and allow us to commit song patterns to memory. It's probably not surprising that many birders use them.
More reading: 15 Great Songs About Birds
(Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds, interactive version of pp. 6-7)
Visualizing bird sounds makes it easier to identify them, because the aspects of bird sound that are important for visualization are the same ones that are important for identification: pitch pattern, speed, repetition, pauses, and tone quality. Creating a mental image of the sound makes it possible to look up the sound in the visual index of the book (p. 495), where similar sounds are grouped by their visual pattern. ~ via earbirding.com
Experiments with Google: Bird Sounds Visualized
In researching this post, I came across a fascinating project by Google. Their A.I. Experiment categorized and visualized thousands of bird sounds via machine learning. Check out Bird Sounds.
More reading: Here's how to choose the best feeder for hummingbirds.
Audubon writes about visualizing birdsong called wavelet transform. Created by software developer Mark Fisher, his program depicts songs produced by cetaceans and birds.
Create Your Own Bird Call Spectrograms
There are a number of apps that will help you create your own bird call spectrograms for identification. Here are a couple to consider:
- SpectralPro Analyzer (Android): $5.99. According the the app developer, the “Pro version of the spectral audio analyser. Selectable bandwidth up to 24 kHz, flexible amplitude and frequency mapping through touch and scroll, different update speeds and colour mappings. Accurate display of high-pitch or even ultrasonic tones, environmental noise or rumble… . Accurate real-time measurement feature allows detection and analysis of live audio. Spectrograms can be saved as png or jpg files to sd-card.”
- SpectrumView (iOS): Free, with in-app purchases. “Visualize in real time the frequencies that you can hear around you and even those you cannot. SpectrumView provides a high-quality real-time spectrogram and spectrum analyser display, with a configurable sample rate and frequency resolution, for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. You can use this application to measure the highest tones you can sing, obtain visual feedback of the frequencies in your speech, to identify an annoying sound, for calibrating musical instruments, or generally for all sorts of acoustic analysis. “
You might consider adding an external mic to improve the quality of the audio clips.
More reading: How to choose the best premium binoculars (under $500)
Have you begun to visualize bird calls? Have a tip or question? Join me in the comments!
Drew Haines is an animal enthusiast and travel writer. She loves to share her passion through her writing.
She lived in Ecuador for 6 years and explored the Galapagos Islands. Currently based in N.S., Canada.