When Fern Hill school visited Ruthven recently, some the students (unfortunately, not everyone) had an opportunity to make recordings of some of the sounds heard around Ruthven. Below are excerpts from these recordings. Accompanying each excerpt is the sonogram for the recording. Sonograms are a way to visualize the sounds in the recording. On the sonogram, pitch (or frequency) is on the Y axis, so sounds that are high pitched appear higher in the sonogram. Time is on the X axis. Louder sounds appear darker.
Sonograms are used by researchers to study bird song, because a visual representation of sound is much easier for humans to analyze and study.
While listening to the recordings below, follow the sonogram to see if you can identify each sound on the sonogram. Have fun!
First up is a section of Charlie’s recording, which has a Yellow Warbler, Field Sparrow, Blue-winged Warbler, and Blue-grey Gnatcatcher. Notice that the Blue-winged Warbler and Blue-grey Gnatcatcher songs have some sounds that are quite high-pitched. As a result of their high pitch, some older adults have a hard time hearing some parts of these songs.
Second is Florence’s recording of two Song Sparrows and a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher. The Song Sparrows on the recording are two males who are “countersinging”. This means that they are communicating and interacting with one another by taking turns singing. Notice the differences between their songs. Song Sparrows are a very interesting bird to record because of their complex and varied songs.
Gabrielle’s recording captured this excerpt with two Blue-winged Warbler songs (they are faint, so listen carefully). There are actually two male Blue-winged Warblers countersinging on this recording. This is an uncommon occurrence in Canada. Blue-winged Warblers are common at Ruthven, but southern ON is the northern edge of their range. So, countersinging males are a nice capture. This recording also captured the flight calls of a few American Goldfinch. Goldfinch calls are distinctive, and can allow easy identification of Goldfinch once they are memorized.
Next up is Jacqueline’s recording. This recording has a lots going on, even though it is only an 11 second excerpt. I’ve filtered the low frequencies from this excerpt, so it sounds a bit unusual. Jacqueline was trying to record Tree Swallows, so these are the loudest birds on the recording. However, the recording also has an Eastern Bluebird,a Red-winged Blackbird (hard to see, but listen for it), a Field Sparrow, and a Yellow Warbler. The Yellow Warbler recording provides an opportunity to compare this Yellow Warbler song to the one recorded by Charlie (above). Looks closely–are they the same? No, they are different. These are different birds, and are singing different songs (even though they sound similar to us).
Terrianne’s recording provides another opportunity to compare Yellow Warbler song to the two previous Yellow Warbler recordings. Notice the slight differences between these songs. These don’t sound very different to us, but highlight the kinds of differences that birds can notice. Also on this recording is a very clear Blue-grey Gnatcatcher recording. Notice all the different frequencies (multiple dark lines) that appear in each sound made by the Gnatcatcher. The earlier gnatcatcher recordings didn’t pick up all of these frequencies because the birds were further away.
Evan’s recording wasn’t the clearest of the day because of the conditions (it now has low frequencies filtered out), but managed to capture a few birds that are not on other recordings–Tufted Titmouse and Black-throated Green Warbler. The Tufted Titmouse is another bird that is uncommon in Canada because southern Ontario is in the northern section of its range. The Black-throated Green Warbler recorded is likely a migrant–the Ontario breeding bird atlas suggests that these birds are unlikely to stay as far south as Ruthven to breed. The zee-zee-zoo-zee of the Black-throated Green Warbler is faint on this recording, so listen closely.
Next I have included a couple of excerpts from a recording by Cole. Cole wanted to record chorus frogs, and it turns out that they create interesting sonogram patterns. They appear as a dark line through the sonogram below, but, if you look closely you’ll see that they actually make a number of separate notes, almost like a trill that a bird would make. I’ve drawn a red circle around one chorus frog sound, inside of which you can see the individual ‘notes’ (dark vertical lines) it uses to create a more complex sound. I haven’t labelled the birds in this one. Can you identify them?
I’ve included a second excerpt from Cole because, in trying to record chorus frogs, Cole happened to record a few birds that aren’t on other recordings from the Fern Hill visit, including Rose-Breasted Grosbeak & Common Yellowthroat. Here is the second clip:
Next, we have an excerpt from a recording created by Matthew, Liam, and Mattias (possibly this last name is spelled incorrectly). These three went on a bit of an adventure in the woods while making their recording, so didn’t have alot of time to produce multiple recordings. However, they did produce a very clear recording of a Yellow-Throated Vireo (once they stopped talking into the recorder). The Yellow-throated Vireo is another bird that is uncommon in Canada because southern Ontario is the northern edge for most of its range. In fact, I’ve uploaded a recording of this individual Yellow-throated Vireo to a birdsong database, xeno canto, and it is one of only three Canadian recordings. See the xeno canto file here.
I haven’t labelled their spectrogram, since only one bird’s song is visible.
Finally, Alex attempted to record a Song Sparrow, but it moved away before we got a good recording (even though Alex did a great job standing still and being quiet). Since I don’t have a recording to show for Alex’s work, I’ll use this as an opportunity to remind people that Xeno Canto is an amazing place for listening to all sorts of birdsong. Many recordings are much clearer than those presented on this page, because higher quality equipment was used. If you want to hear a Song Sparrow, you can click this link to go listen to one of the 331 Song Sparrow recordings on Xeno Canto. Perhaps some of you could even start recording birds and adding your own recordings to Xeno Canto!