It’s Spring Migration! Why Not Learn a Few Songs?

April 14, 2021 Habitat & Wildlife

It’s an exciting time to enjoy birds, not only seeing them but learning their songs. And you don’t even have to go anywhere – they are coming to you! And no lugging binoculars to enjoy them.  Mornings now are full of delightful birdsongs and calls as spring migration and mating season are in full swing. Where are those lovely sounds are coming from?  Think it’s not possible to find out?  NOT SO!

Some of us “relics” did have to learn the hard way by being with someone who could teach us, and that’s still highly recommended, but you can get a long way on your own these days with the technology available on your phone.  Just decide to enjoy the process of learning, and relearning, tuning your ears to a few voices at a time, and know it will be a rewarding life-long challenge you can practice anywhere. Once you recognize a voice, it’s like hearing an old friend call to you in a crowd, you know who that is without having to see them!

Bet you can learn these:

First, sit quietly outside wherever you happen to be. Morning and late afternoon are best.  Within a few minutes you will likely notice birds returning and singing nearby.  If you are not naturally musically inclined, it may help to learn by mnemonics – applying words with similar sounds as the song.  Below are 3 common birds and mnemonics for their common songs with links to the calls. Mnemonics are often noted in the descriptions of songs.

Here are a few backyard birds you can try learning while sipping your coffee in the morning:

Links take you to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds, with photos, information and songs

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

Mnemonic:  Old-Sam-Peabody-Peabody-Peabody

These sparrows do migrate north soon, but you may hear them for the next few weeks.

White-throated Sparrow All About Birds

White Throated Sparrow Call Macauley Library



Mnemonic:  Rusty pump arm.  This is from way back when you had to pump the long leaver to bring water up from the well, so you may have to use your imagination, but once you hear that phrase, it makes perfect sense.  Bluejays are quite linguistically creative though, so they will entertain and challenge you to recognize all their calls.

Blue Jay All About Birds

Blue Jay Call Macauly Library

Eastern Towhee 

Eastern Towhee

Mnemonic: Drink Your Teeee

Eastern Towhee All About Birds

Eastern Towhee Song Macauley Library


There are many apps out there for learning to recognize birds, their songs and calls and their biology. Look around and try them on your own, but here are a few tried and true resources staff recommends for getting you started.

Merlin All About Birds

This is a great app to have on your phone or on your computer.

Our favorite in-hand book is The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley from the National Audubon Society.  There is a large format version and a smaller field guide.

TN Ornithological Society (or look for your own state society)

Depending on COVID status, you will be able to find outings with exceptionally knowledgeable folks who love nothing more than to help you learn. There are chapters in all regions of TN so look for those in your area.