NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. — Sometimes to learn something, just reading it isn’t enough. Sometimes you have to go further and research it on your own. Tweetspeak correspondent Linzy Borowicz and I found that this is the best way to learn about birds after participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count, which allows citizens to participate in science in their own backyards.
On Saturday, February 18th, we set out to document what birds we could find at the Westminster College Field Station. Right from the get-go, we heard a two-note song being sung overhead – a Black-capped Chickadee. On the unseasonably warm day, birds were heard from all directions trying to attract mates. A bright red male Northern Cardinal appeared in the tree in front of us and sang its song before darting away. Moments later, a female cardinal appeared in the same tree. It was clear to us what was going on. But is it too early for them to be mating?
According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds wildlife advisor Ian Hayward, hormones can trigger the start of mating season, however, the most likely start lies in what’s known as the photoperiod, or the length of the days. For birds that are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, longer days mean favorable breeding conditions. In other words, when the days get longer is when you’ll start to hear those familiar songs. In the field, our team identified several bird species by their songs and calls alone:
- American Goldfinch
- Red-winged Blackbird
- Northern Cardinal
- White-breasted Nuthatch
- Black-capped Chickadees
- Blue Jay
When listening to the songs and calls of birds, it is important to note that birds can make a whole range of notes at different pitches, according to the Sibley Guides website. This may seem obvious, but it is very important when identifying birds in the real world. Not every bird of a species is going to sound exactly like a sound clip you hear, but they will definitely give you a good understanding of what you should listen for. Once you do have a rough idea of what some calls
and songs should sound like, the best way to practice is to get out in the field (literally!) and practice identifying what you hear. There’s a whole world of songs out there, so go on, get listening!