Birder's Guide

NOV 2018

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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36 Birder's Guide to Gear | November 2018 Nocturnal Bird Calls Nathan Pieplow's and Andrew Spencer's website (, which is great for birding by ear altogether. After you familiarize yourself with the basics, you are ready to get a microphone and start recording! There are a couple different options for recording. The first, and most basic, is via your smartphone. If you have a phone that can record au- dio, this is the easiest and simplest way to record NFCs, and a great starting point. If you want something more intense and advanced, your best bet is to buy or build a microphone. I highly recommend pur- chasing one of Bill Evans's microphones ( If you're a do-it-yourselfer, you can make your own by following the instructions on Evans's website. After you have a microphone, you need to set it up in a logical spot. Ideal locations are places where birds concentrate, such as along a river, on the coast, or along a mountain ridge. Even more important, the micro- phone should be placed as far away from trees as possible—so that insect, frog, or human noise isn't a big problem—and in a spot with access to a power source. If none of that is possible, the roof of your home works just fine. Be aware that in- sects can create hundreds, if not thou- sands, of false recordings. You should be prepared to sift through all these re- cordings in order to find bird calls. Once you've set up your microphone, you are almost ready to start recording. The last step is to download the computer soft- ware and programs. Evans's website lists the steps and needed software, and de- scribes how to analyze bird recordings. Now you're ready to record! After a night of recording, as you listen to the audio clips, view the spectrograms from an active microphone pointed at the sky. This tool opened the door to breaking the code of nocturnal flight call identification. In 1990, Bill Evans released a cassette tape of the flight calls of nocturnally migrating New World thrushes as a ref- erence guide. Ten years later, in 2002, he and Michael O'Brien released a CD- ROM guide to the flight calls of land- birds of the eastern U.S. This was an extensive audio library of NFCs encom- passing 211 species of Eastern birds, paired with identifications of each call. This was not just any old CD. It revolu- tionized the birding community. It cre- ated a new guide to learning bird calls, allowing anyone to become an expert on the flight calls of birds. Since then, some fabulous other re- sources have been published. In terms of databases, the two main resources I use A variety of nocturnal flight calls. All spectrogram images © Preston Lust COUNTERCLOCKWISE FROM TOP: ■ "Ipswich" Savannah Sparrow has a high degree of modulation and longer call than a "regular" Savannah Sparrow. ■ Rose-breasted Grosbeak has a highly variable flight call. ■ Canada Warbler has one of the more distinctive warbler flight calls: note the relatively low frequency and sharp fall and rise in the spectrogram. ■ Mourning Warbler's classic "double banded up-sweep" flight call starts at a low frequency and ends high. are Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library and Xeno-Canto. The former is an excellent database of photos, videos, and recordings of hundreds of species. Using the user-friendly interface, you can easily type in any species and find recordings of its flight calls. You can narrow down flight call recordings by quality, time of year, location, and even who recorded them. The latter database is similar to the Macaulay Library, but only has recordings of birds. This site is also a little harder to navigate and narrow down search op- tions. Both sites are good resources for referencing bird calls and viewing spec- trograms. A number of other websites can be extremely useful when learning NFCs. My favorite is Paul Driver's blog (pjdeye. He provides many ex- amples of recordings and spectrograms of over 100 species of birds. I visit the site frequently. Another great reference is

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