Bird Song and Sonograms

Everyone loves the sound of birds singing. It means so many things to so many people. For me it represents the start of a new day, filled with countless opportunities. I am currently reviewing a bird identification course I did last year with the BTO. With the last years experience under my best I have become more interested in the technical side of bird song.

When you begin to attempt to learn bird song it is truly a huge challenge. Where do you even start? There are tips and tricks you people can share with you to help you remember, but something which may appeal to some is the more technical side.

Physics was never a strong subject for me, but if I can apply technical knowledge to something real, usually I can grasp it. If a bird’s song is recorded on a sonogram it can be visualised. The changes in the sound are reflected in changes in a graph of frequency (kHz) versus time (seconds).

Using this visual image one can then identify the characteristics of the song. To start with you can figure out if the bird is singing in a high or low-frequency? For example a wood-pigeon (ringdue), which most people will be familar with sings in a very low-frequency (think double bass!). You can listen here.

Wood Pigeon Sonogram – all the sound are in a low-frequency range (0-2kHz). Image from: http://www.fssbirding.org.uk

While the firecrest (fuglekong), a very small song bird sings in a very high frequency. You can listen here.

Firecrest sonogram shows very high frequency (8-10kHz). Image from: http://www.fssbirding.org.uk

Also you can identify if a song is simple or complex. The chiffchaff (gransanger) has a very simple song while members of the warbler family (like the blackcap or munk in Danish) have very complex songs with many variations in frequency.

The chiffchaff has a simple song. Image from http://www.ffsbirding.org.uk

A warbler like the black cap has a complex song. Image from http://www.ffsbirding.org.uk

The sonogram images from this excellent website, where there are many more, if you would like to try and figure a few more out! Who knows, it might just help!

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2 responses to “Bird Song and Sonograms”

  1. Tadhg says :

    One of my pals, Domhnall Jennings analyzed the sounds made by deer during the rutting season…using sonograms. It’s interesting to explore complexity and dominance hierarchies-research on humans shows certain preferences in terms of social cognition-Why do we listen attentively to Simon Cowell and Alan Sugar when we know there muppets. http://www.facelab.org/include/download?id=418

  2. waggers says :

    If you aren’t aware of him you should check out http://www.davidrothenberg.net/

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