Photo: Sue Simenc
Cuyahoga Connections: Birds
Welcome to Cuyahoga Connections, Birds
This instalment of Cuyahoga Connections is all about birds! Chances are, every time you visit CVNP you encounter hundreds and hundreds of birds – all different types, sizes and colors. Learn how to identify them by sight and sound, discover their impact on our park and become a jr. ranger birding expert!
Don’t forget to reach out to us with questions, comments or to share your experiences and completed journals by sending an email to email@example.com or tagging #forCVNP on your social media posts!
Lucy’s Life List by Sally Deems-Mogyordy; Illustrated by Christina Baal
Follow Lucy as she develops an interest in birding in her own backyard with the help of a fantastic birder friend. She discovers everything from waterfowl to raptors, doves, owls, hummingbirds, kingfishers, woodpeckers, and many more. This book includes a link to download a full-color, educational Young Birders Field Guide for your birder to take into the backyard and start identifying.
What birds are you most excited to see in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?
Journal About It!
Become a Jr. Ranger Birder! Learn about different ways to identify birds using your senses, make observations on birds’ diets based on the shape of their beaks, introduce your family to bird watching and even create your very own bird. By the time you complete this journal, you’ll be a birding expert!
Challenge: Beginner Birding-by-Ear
For this month’s challenge, let’s turn our attention to the sounds of nature with a small introduction to birding by ear.
We are going to examine five species that can be found year-round all over Cuyahoga Valley National Park: the Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, Blue Jay, Black-Capped Chickadee and Red Bellied Woodpecker. They all have distinct calls and unique songs, so they are a good group to begin to learn birding by ear.
Remembering and recalling birdsong: Mnemonics
Birders use several different methods to identify and remember birdsong. One is using a mnemonic (pronounced neh-monic) – a catchy phrase or word that could be a way to express a bird’s song in human words. It is a hack to remember what the bird is “saying.”
Try this: play the call below of the Tufted Titmouse. Birders think that this bird is saying “Peter, Peter, Peter”. Some people hear it more like “Here, here, here”.
Audio File of Tufted Titmouse calling, CVNP, April 6, 2021. Recording by Conservancy staff.
Now try the call of the Northern Cardinal. Cardinals have several different calls and songs! Birders describe the Northern Cardinal as saying “ What cheer” and “Purty, purty, purty.”
Audio file of Northern Cardinal calling, CVNP, April 6, 2021. Recording by Conservancy staff.
What mnemonic would you create for yourself to remember these birds’ calls?
Remembering and recalling birdsong: Sound and tone
Another tactic birders use is to describe the sound and tone of the bird’s songs. Often we use musical terms. What instrument does the bird sound like? For example, the Tufted Titmouse and Northern Cardinal can be described as flute-like. Compare those with the call of the Blue Jay, which is sometimes described as brash or coarse.
Audio File of Blue Jay calling, CVNP, April 6, 2021. Recording by Conservancy staff.
Blue Jays are master songsters. Even though we commonly can identify their coarse call, they are capable of many different vocalizations. They even can mimic other birds!
Some other sounds and tones used to describe bird song are “metallic” or “buzzy.” A good example is the Black-Capped Chickadee. Can you hear the “metallic” or “buzzy” qualities in this bird’s song? Birders commonly use the mnemonic “Chicka dee dee dee” to describe this song. What does it sound like the chickadee is saying?
Another sound is a quick release of notes or sounds known as a trill. In this clip, a Red-Bellied Woodpecker is making it’s soft trill. Can you hear the Red-Bellied Woodpecker? Listen closely.
Audio file of Red-Bellied Woodpecker calling, CVNP, April 6, 2021. Recording by Conservancy staff.
A CVNP soundscape
Now let’s try some sensory tricks to listen to the soundscape…
- Deer Ears: White-Tailed Deer are expert listeners. Their big ears can capture sounds from all directions. Try cupping your hands and placing them behind your ears to make “Deer Ears.” Listen to the soundscape once without Deer Ears, and then try once using Deer Ears. How have the sounds changed? What can you hear differently when you use Deer Ears?
- Fistful of Sounds: Close your eyes and put your hand up while you listen to the soundscape. Every time you hear a new sound, lower a finger until all of your fingers are lowered and you have captured a fistful of sounds. What are the sounds you heard?
Audio of forest soundscape, CVNP, April 6, 2021. Recording by Conservancy staff.
How many different birds did you hear in the soundscape? Can you use a mnemonic to remember what birds you may have heard? What kinds of sounds and tones did you identify?
Other tips to birding by ear:
- Count the number of notes. How many times did a bird make a particular sound?
- Try to get a sense of speed. Was the bird singing many notes very quickly, or were the notes slow?
- How loud or soft was the bird singing?
- Practice, practice, practice! There are many resources from Cornell, to USGS —even YouTube—with great examples of birdsong.
Our beginner’s guide is not exhaustive. Birds can and do make different songs and calls depending on the situation (for example, if they are alarmed) and location (for example, Chickadee songs can vary depending on the region). We encourage you to deepen your knowledge with a great resource like Cornell’s All About Birds to learn even more about birding by ear.
Please remember: birds can hear us, too! When you venture out to bird by ear, please DO NOT play these—or any other recordings of birdsong out in nature. If a bird hears the recording, it could alarm or upset them—or make them waste precious energy trying to determine the source of the sound. They might think it’s another bird! If you want to practice in the field, please consider using headphones so as not to disturb the wildlife around you. Purposefully playing calls to attract birds is prohibited in CVNP, and is considered harassment in many other places.