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Something Wild: How to remember bird songs

 Black-capped chickadee
Colin Durfee
A black-capped chickadee

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

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.

Something Wild is a partnership of New Hampshire Audubon, the Forest Society and NHPR, and is produced by the team at Outside/In.

Naturalist Dave Anderson is Senior Director of Education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, where he has worked for over 30 years. He is responsible for the design and delivery of conservation-related outreach education programs including field trips, tours and presentations to Forest Society members, conservation partners, and the general public.
Chris Martin has worked for New Hampshire Audubon for over 31 years as a Conservation Biologist, specializing in birds of prey such as Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Peregrine Falcons.
Jessica previously worked as a producer for NHPR's The Exchange, wedging in as many discussions as possible about the environment, wildlife, and the outdoors. You can hear her occasionally as a substitute host on NHPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

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