You are here:media >sound >
2020-10-25 : 9:53 am : +0100


Calls and songs

The sounds that birds make are as diverse and varied as they are. Storks rattle their bills, snipes and hummingbirds rush air through their tails, and Neotropical manikins clip their wings together. Some birds make soft contact calls, others have loud shrieks, and others still are mostly silent. But the sounds that stand out the most have got to be the songs. The passerines (order: Passeriformes) – or songbirds – are especially renowned for their beautiful melodious calls.

In Europe, bird song is most associated with the breeding season, as males sing to establish and maintain territories, as well as to attract and communicate with mates. Singing is greatest around dawn but this is by no means a rule. Some birds, such as the nightingale, will sing all through the night, and others are much more restricted in terms of how much and when they sing. The stimuli that control singing include a complex mix of: day length, hormonal changes, weather, pairing status, and stage of breeding (amongst many others).

Bird sounds can be – most simply – separated into calls and songs. The latter are generally longer and can contain a series of complex song elements. Bird sounds can be represented with sonograms, examples of which are presented below.

Recording bird sounds

Martin Riesing has been recording bird sounds with a variety of devices since an early age. At the moment he is using a binaural OKM II microphone from Soundman in combination with a hand-held SONY DAT recorder (PCM-M1). He uses the rather practical Cool Edit Pro 2.1 (Syntrillium) for editing, cutting and analysing of spectra.

Bird sounds can be very deep (e.g. Eagle Owl, Bittern or Ostrich), but very high-pitched sounds are also not uncommon (e.g. Goldcrest or Robin). Some calls fall below our human tonal range of hearing. In addition, the complexity of sounds often creates an added challenge to recording: loud calls are often quickly intermixed with very soft calls. Environmental conditions, background noise, and the presence of other, louder species can all make recording difficult. All of these varied influences add to the challenge and complexity of bird sound recording.

Why DAT?

DAT stands for Digital Audio Tape, and is an analogue medium for recording sound.

Experience has shown that only completely uncompressed formats can accurately (and adequately) record the finer details of bird sounds. Errors and losses creep in to the data when they are compressed (MP3, ATRAC). Nevertheless, small MP3 recorders are quite adequate for casual, hobby use or for taking with on travels.

In the future, hard-disk and flash drive technology is likely to make the recording of un-compressed WAV files an option. Compact Dictaphones are also an option and they allow for the easy play-back of calls to make identification easier.

You will find a list of suggested recording devices in BIRDERSHOP. We would be happy to provide a list of relevant links for professionals and scientists, so feel free to contact us.

Interesting bird call links

See the current links page

Bird sound collection of Avi-Soft Bioacoustics / Raimund Specht

Syrinx capture and analysis software

You may also want to surf some of the relevant wikipedia pages.

International links:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Sound and Video Library
British Library sound archives’ wildlife collection „Listen to Nature“

We recommend VLC Media Player for the various bird sound recordings.

Do you have further sites to recommend or questions? Please feel free to contact us.