The Seven Basic Tone Qualities

Tone quality is the distinctive voice of a sound — the thing that allows you to tell the difference between a violin and a trumpet when they’re both playing the same note. It comes in very handy when identifying birds by sound, but people have tended to differ in their notions of how to describe it. Today we’ll introduce basic tone quality vocabulary. [Read more]

Changes in Speed and Pitch, and Multi-noted Series

Now that we’ve looked at the five basic pitch patterns and the four basic song patterns, let’s explore a couple of ways to extend and combine the vocabulary we’ve learned. [Read more]

The Four Basic Song Patterns

In the last post, I covered the five basic pitch patterns, introducing some vocabulary to help distinguish between different types of individual notes. Today I’m going to introduce some vocabulary to help distinguish between different types of groups of notes — that is, different types of songs. [Read more]

The Five Basic Pitch Patterns

The “How to Read Spectrograms” section of this blog is in desperate need of an upgrade, so today I’m starting a series of posts to help people describe and visualize sounds as simply and clearly as possible. Our first topic: pitch patterns. [Read more]

Long Calls of Gulls

Most people don’t listen to gulls much. But as I’ve paid more attention to them over the past year, I’ve realized that many species can indeed be identified by sound alone, and this fact has greatly improved my birding skills. [Read more]

Common and Hoary Redpolls

Some have argued that Common and Hoary Redpolls differ in vocalizations. I set out to verify this claim. [Read more]

The Warbler Guide

I am confident that this book will enhance the way people look at warblers. I am less confident, but ardently hopeful, that it will enhance the way they listen to warblers as well. [Read more]

Empid Mystery Solved!

Remember the mysterious two-part call of the unidentified Empid? Nacho Areta has filled in the missing piece of the puzzle. [Read more]

Cornell’s Master Set

The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has just released what it’s calling the “Master Set” – the most comprehensive audio guide to North American bird sounds ever published. [Read more]

“Russet-backed” vs. “Olive-backed” Swainson’s Thrushes

Over the past decade, the work of Kristen Ruegg and her colleagues has shown that the two forms of Swainson’s Thrush not only look different, but migrate on different schedules to markedly different wintering grounds. They hybridize in a contact zone in British Columbia, but that contact zone is quite narrow, prompting occasional rumors and rumblings of a potential future species split. One of the proposed lines of evidence concerns differences in vocalizations. [Read more]