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Mnemonic Devices for Identifying Bird Songs

Recognizing a bird just from its song is no easy task. Sure, there are recordings you can listen to over and over or you could play a game like Larkwire, but it’s still exceptionally difficult unless you can really internalize the sound.

That’s why mnemonic devices and phonetics are essential.

For those who don’t know, a mnemonic device is a learning technique that associates something you have to remember with something else, such as a song, memorable phrase, or acronym. For example, the ABC song helps children remember the alphabet. “HOMES” is an acronym for the Great Lakes (pop quiz: name them!).

Redwing Singing

Because bird songs sometimes sound like garbled warbling and random chirping, people have come up with words to associate with the song. (For example, a towhee says drink your tea.) Phonetics, which are similar, use sounds to associate a song with a bird. (For example, a whip-poor-will says whip-poor-will.)

We’ve compiled a list of mnemonic or phonetic devices for the most common birds to help you better identify a bird through its song. We’ll add to the list periodically.

Please bear in mind that birds often have multiple songs and calls, so these may not always be the only sounds a species makes.

American Crow: caw-caw-caw

American Goldfinch: per-chick-a-ree

American Robin: cheerup-cheerup-cheerily (and variations of that)

Barred Owl: who cooks for you, who cooks for you

Black-capped Chickadee: chick-a-dee-dee-dee (fee bee is another)

Blue Jay: jay-jay-jay (or jeer-jeer-jeer)

Carolina Chickadeechick-a-dee-dee-dee (fee bee is another)

Carolina Wren: tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle

Chipping Sparrow: maids, maids, maids, put on your tea, kettle, kettle, kettle

Eastern Bluebird: cheer, cheerful, charmer (this is the common one but I don’t find it very similar, it can sound like chatter pew)

Eastern Towhee: drink your tea (elongated tea)

Eastern Whippoorwill: whip-poor-will

Great Horned Owl: are you awake? me too

Mourning Dove: hooo-oo hoo-hoo-hoo

Northern Cardinal: cheer-cheer-cheer purty-purty-purty

Red-eyed Vireo: where are you, here I am (repeated)

Red-winged Blackbird: conk-a-ree (check is one of its calls)

Tufted Titmousepeter-peter-peter

White-throated Sparrow: o sweet Canada-Canada-Canada

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.

10 Comments

  1. What bird says “drano drano drano”

  2. just found out it’s the cardinal

  3. What bird says peeper peeper peeper

  4. Hi there. The phrase you put for Chipping Sparrow really belongs to Song Sparrow.

    Chipping Sparrow is just a long trill. Thanks

  5. What bird says “tea for two?”

  6. What bird says journey journey journey

  7. Hi, what bird says SEE cret, SEE cret?

  8. It is the cardinal that says drano drano drano?

  9. I thought the cardinal said ‘purty, purty, purty’

  10. What Manitoba bird says pee pee-dee? I hear a lone call all year round but can never spot the bird.

Comments are closed.