Ten Bird Calls you Probably Already Know!

Before I went back to school for ecology, I might have been able to identify five bird calls.

Maybe I could identify more (I never tested myself), but I certainly wasn't really paying attention to the sounds of birds as I went around the city. My urban nature outings never involved working on  distinguishing one call from another, neither was I trying to associate a specific call with a specific bird.

Nature to me was a blur of colours, flowers and trees known more as groups than as individuals and the background sounds all blurred into one - a relaxing sound of birds.  I immersed myself in the big "N" of nature and enjoyed being immersed.

But when I had the opportunity - both at school to learn bird calls and to go to a birding class in the city after graduating, I found that knowing bird calls give me an extra enjoyment when I'm out in nature and even as I walk around the city.   There are more species of birds in urban areas than you might suspect.  Over twenty percent of birds are found in cities!  I also found that using my ears helps me identify birds that I don't even see.   (There are so many more birds around than we realize - many are high up in trees or hidden in shrubbery!) And best of all - learning bird calls really wasn't as hard as I had thought!

I thought it would be fun to list ten bird calls to start testing your birding ear with.

American Robin - Let's start with the American Robin.  Everyone knows this one right?  We see the Robin every spring and enjoy its cheery call!

Cheer-i-up, cheer-ee-o

American Crow - Oh how I love the gregariousness of this bird and the loyalty it has to its family.  Their call is probably familiar to many!  (And don't forget to look for their daily sunset commute to their winter roosts!)


Blue Jay - Such a talkative bird and what a delight to see that flash of blue in your yard or in a local park.  I had to really work with the mnemonic to remind myself that this was the Jay call.


Black-capped Chickadee - This small friendly bird has a plethora of calls that includes one that echoes its own name: Chick-a-dee-dee-dee.  At school a classmate shared with me a new mnemonic that identifies a second call of this bird which I love - see if you can catch this call when you are out.

Cheeese-bur-ger  (hungry yet?)

Mourning Dove - Who doesn't know the calming "coo" of a mourning dove?  And no worries if you don't - you can learn it quickly and easily, as it is a very unique sound.  (Pictured above in title photo)

Hooo-ah hoo-hoo-hoo

Mallard - Every duck has its own unique distinctive call - I had no idea!  So if you are familiar with the mallard's "quack" then you can identify this duck by ear!

Quack quack quack (as simple as that!)

Northern Cardinal - Another colourful bird that is a favourite backyard bird for many.  It has two lovely easily identifiable calls.  You will here two parts to the first one - a quicker chirp that lasts for 12 to 15 quick beats with the Chew, chew, chew after and then the very distinct "Purty purty".  Hearing the Cardinal calls are another marker of spring for me.


Red-breasted Nuthatch - In class, we were instructed to see if we could here the "low slow beep" that you might here when a large truck is backing up.  This was the best way for me to quickly hear this bird outdoors!


Red-winged Blackbird - This beautiful black bird with the red epaulets is one of my favourites as I grew up around wet fields and rivers where their territorial call notified us of the end of winter.


Pileated Woodpecker - Once you hear this ghostly dusky call, it might bring you back to camping days when you were walking around at sunset.  But you can also find this bird in urban areas as long as there is some wooded greenspace around.


* * * 

You can listen to all these calls at the Nature Instruct Dendroica Site - choose your country and then type in the bird name in the "Filter Species" box (bottom right corner).  Or visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds site that has photos, videos and all the details for every bird you can imagine!

Keep in mind that the distinct call or song that you use to first identify the bird, may be just one of many sounds that the bird species makes.  Pay attention and when you see (or hear) a bird you recognize, stay awhile and notice what other songs, notes, noises it makes.

For those in Ottawa - the Ottawa Bird Count offers an incredible Bird Songs course every spring for its volunteers.  The above list was inspired by their first class which goes over some of the more familiar bird calls!

*** Please be aware that listening to bird calls at home with your indoor cats may cause some confusion and "ears up" action!***  Our dear cat Max, kept looking for the birds he heard (as I was writing this post and reviewing the bird songs), even jumping up on my desk!

And last but not certainly least, this week we've contributed a post to Nature Canada's great website: "Cats and Birds" - highlighting two favourite Migratory Backyard Birds that we love.  Read the blog post here!  Thanks so much to the Cats and Birds staff for inviting us to write a blog post!

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