Bird Academy – Sound Lessons

Bird songs inspire students to listen and wonder! Here, we provide a companion for educators wishing to use the Bird Academy’s All About Bird Song module. The numbers below refer to interactive features on that site. We encourage you to also use our free downloadable lesson, Bird Communication, designed for 3-8th grade. We hope these resources will provide educators with ideas to inspire learning through birds.


"For the Love of Song" this Yellow Warbler sings its heart out. | Photo by Keith Williams

“For the Love of Song” this Yellow Warbler sings its heart out. | Photo by Keith Williams

1. Songbirds in Action

As you watch the videos of these birds singing, see if you can come up with some answers to these questions.  If more questions arise while observing the birds sing, add them to your “I Wonder” board to research later.

An important part of listening to bird song is having keen observational skills and being attentive. One way to warm up students’ observational skills is through Bird Bingo! Want to dig deeper with sounds? Test your audial observation skills by creating sound maps (directions for the sound maps activity and other activities are in our Bird Communication downloadable lesson.

Some birders like to memorize the songs of the birds as a way of identifying the birds around them. One way to help learn songs is by creating a mnemonic for the sound you are hearing. Bird and Moon has some great illustrations with mnemonics that will help you get comfortable with some common songsters in your area on the east coast or on the west coast.  Or, check out Fernbank Science Center’s comprehensive list of bird mnemonics.


2-3. Bird Song Hero Training + Challenge

Many scientists are better able to analyze sound when they can visualize it and slow it down or zoom-in on the pitches. Spectrograms make this possible by translating audio into a visually readable form; a bit like reading sheet music. By watching the Bird Song Hero Training video, you and your students will learn how to read a spectrogram. By taking on the Bird Song Hero Challenge, you will be able to test and refine your spectrogram-reading skills.

Select the squiggly sound waves icon to launch the spectrogram reader.

Macaulay Library Navigation | Select the squiggly sound waves icon to launch the spectrogram program, RavenViewer.

Keep practicing after Bird Song Hero! With the Macaulay Library you can explore thousands of bird songs and the sounds of other animals such as coyotes, elephants, whales, and crickets! A program engrained in the Macaulay Library interface, RavenViewer, will allow you to see the spectrograms of these sounds. In some cases, you’ll be able to watch the video recording of a bird, like a Yellow Warbler, singing with the spectrogram running at the same time. Please note: You might be prompted to complete a quick software installation, but once it’s done, you’re all set.

For free glance-at-guides of how to use RavenViewer, click below:
RavenViewerGuide AUDIO 2014
RavenViewerGuideVIDEO 2014

4. How Birds Sing

Nature is full of sounds, and scientists are consistently listening in to make sense of them all! Watch the The Language of Birds video to meet some birds, listen to their vocalizations, and learn about the anatomy that makes bird song possible. Use The Language of Birds video to provide your students with background information on bird song. Then, visit the How Birds Sing module to try out the virtual Syrinx (the remarkable voice box of a bird). Here, play the bird song at normal speed and then at 1/4th speed.  What do you notice? Click “next” to browse through the three other birds. Play each at full speed and then 1/4th speed.  At each speed ask students to describe what they hear. Does anyone think they can replicate the sound on their own?

5. Practice, Perfect

We all know that it can take some time to get things right. That’s why we practice a skill over and over again. Whether it be taking a penalty kick for your soccer team or mastering that solo for the school’s orchestra concert, practice makes perfect. Songbirds need practice too! As you browse through the birds in this section, click the recording for the “perfect” song.  Then play the practice song. Next you’ll explore how well professional musicians can imitate bird song and your class will try and imitate some songs themselves!

6. Birds Got Swingbirds-got-swing

Play the video. After listening to Maria and Theo, do you think you have what it takes to imitate a bird call on your own? To start out, return to the previous module, Practice, Perfect, and have the class listen once and then try to imitate the perfect song. (either take a volunteer or have everyone try all together at once). How does the sound compare?
To go further, download Raven Lite. Raven Lite will allow you to record any sound and then see the spectrogram reading of that sound. When you play the perfect song, record their attempt to imitate the song. Do this for each bird.  Then, go back and review each bird, listening to the sound and looking at the spectrogram for the perfect song, the class’s imitation, and the practice song.  How did the human attempt compare, both by sound and by appearance? How do the students relate to birds learning song?

Finish the lesson by having students work in pairs on a computer. Using Raven Lite, have them create imitations of each in a set of three local birds’ songs. At the conclusion, have each team share what they feel is their best birdsong imitation and the process they used to create it.

Suggested birds for east coast: Tufted Titmouse, Northern CardinalAmerican Crow.
Suggested birds for west coast: Brown Creeper, Vesper Sparrow, Yellow-headed Blackbird.