Something Wild: How to remember bird songs

Dave Anderson, Chris Martin, Jessica Hunt | June 3, 2022
Tags:
Wildlife
The team sits on a bench on the floodplain in spring.

The Something Wild team found song birds and recorded sound at the Merrimack River Outdoor Education & Recreation Area. Left to right: Chris Martin, Jessica Hunt, and Dave Anderson. (Photo: Sophie Oehler)

"Something Wild" is joint production of NH Audubon, The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests & NHPR. We recommend listening to it in its original format on NHPR but a transcript of the show is also below. (Originally aired June 3, 2022)

You can hear Something Wild on-air at NHPR every other Friday at 6:45 a.m. and 8:45 a.m., or subscribe to the Apple podcast here.

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Birds are singing everywhere this time of year, making it a great time to practice identifying birds by their songs and calls.

Black capped Chickadee. (Photo: Tracy Lee Carroll)

Hearing the bird song in the field and then learning the random human alliteration of lyrics creates an indelible impression of the song in your memory. These mnemonic phrases are a kind of birding folklore passed down from generations of birders.

Trust us: You are going to want to listen to this episode! Chris Martin and Dave Anderson test their bird song knowledge with mnemonic phrases.

Here are some of Anderson's favorite mnemonic bird phrases:

  • American Redstart – “Seets-seets-seets-seets Seee-OH”
  • Robin – “cheer-up, cheerily, cheerio”
  • Cardinal – “birdie birdie birdie, whoit, whoit, whoit, pupeeto, pupeeto, pupeeto!”
  • Chickadee – “Spring’s Here!”
  • Phoebe – “Fee-breet! Phoebe-dee-beet”
  • Tufted Titmouse – “Peter, Peter” or “Right HERE!” or “Wheat-EAR”
  • Red or White breasted nuthatch – “Yank, yank, yank”
  • Song Sparrow - “Maids, Maids Pleeeease – Put on the Teeeea Kettle”
  • White Throated Sparrow “Oh Poor Sam Peabody- Peabody-Peabody” or “Oh Sweet Canada-Canada-Canada!”
  • Rufous-sided Towee – “DRINK your Teeea!”
  • Vireos - “Here I am. Look at me. I’m up here. In a tree” or “I’m up here. I am green. Where are you?”
  • Yellow Warbler – “Sweet Sweet Sweeter than sweet!”
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler – “Pleased pleased pleased to meet choo” or “See see see Miss Beach-er”
  • Ovenbird – A very emphatic “Teacher teacher teacher! TEACHER! TEACHER!”
  • Common yellowthroat – “Witch-ity witch-ity, witch-ity.”
  • Black and white warbler – “Wee-see, wee-see, wee-see”

To learn more, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library of Sound. You can listen to bird calls from all over the world, using your smartphone or computer.