Guest Blog: Listening for the Birds

By: Cassie Breton, SCiP intern, U of A student

For my bird data collection internship with EALT, I listened to a selection of 5 minute recordings from an acoustic recording unit (ARU) collected over the months of June and July. The ARU was placed in a coniferous bog with a mixedwood forest nearby, about 1-2 km from the North Saskatchewan River at one of EALT's upcoming conservation areas. To successfully identify the birds, many of the recordings required extra study, as white noise from rain, mosquitoes buzzing, cows, dogs, and airplanes were present and made hearing the bird sounds difficult at times!

The Red-eyed Vireo, White-throated Sparrow, Wilson's Snipe, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Hermit Thrush and the Brown-headed Cowbird were some of the most common or most interesting birds I heard throughout the recordings. Additional information about each species and their song follows:

Red-eyed Vireo   Photo: Gerald Romanchuk

Red-eyed Vireo  Photo: Gerald Romanchuk

Red-eyed vireos are olive-green with white bellies, with a strong head pattern that includes a gray crown and white eyebrow stripe, bordered with black lines. They can be difficult to see among the green leaves, as they move slow and methodically looking for their favorite food - caterpillars! You will know they are there though, because they have a brief but incessant song that a single male can sing up to 20,000 times per day!

White-throated sparrows are attractive birds with their black eyestripes, white crown and supercilium, yellow lores, and white throat bordered by a black whisker. Often in flocks, theystay near the ground searching in the leaves for food. They have a distinctive song that sounds like a pretty, wavering whistle of Oh-sweet-canada, that they sing frequently.

White-throated Sparrow  Photo: Gerald Romanchuk

White-throated Sparrow Photo: Gerald Romanchuk

Wilson's Snipe   Photo: Gerald Romanchuk

Wilson's Snipe Photo: Gerald Romanchuk

Wilson’s Snipe (also called Common Snipe), are plump, long-billed birds that can be tough to see because of their cryptic brown coloration and secretive nature. They forge methodically, probing in muddy ground for earthworms and other invertebrates. In the summer, males often fly high in the sky with a fast, zig-zagging flight and an unusual hu-hu-hu “winnowing” sound made from their tail feathers.  

Red-breasted nuthatches are tiny, active birds that are blue-gray with strongly patterned heads and underparts that are a rich rusty-cinnamon color. They hangout on tree trunks and branches where they search bark burrows for hidden insects. They have an excitable yank-yank call that sounds like a tiny car alarm.

Red-breasted Nuthatch   Photo: Gerald Romanchuk

Red-breasted Nuthatch  Photo: Gerald Romanchuk

Were you unsure of some of the terms used to describe these birds? Learn about bird anatomy and hone your bird identification skills with help from The Cornell Lab.