Bird Talk: Songs and Calls

Thank you for attending our Soar Through the Standards: Songs and Calls webinar!  We hope these resources will help you use what you’ve learned with the kids you teach!  Please continue to check back to this page as we will continue to develop it as we learn of (or develop) new resources.  We’ll also continue to add links based on questions we are asked during webinars.

Content Summary

  • “Songs” are longer, more complex vocalizations, usually used for courtship or defending territory. “Calls” are shorter, simpler vocalizations.
  • Different songs and calls convey different messages (such as: courtship, territory, alarm, maintaining contact, parent/young, food). Some vocalizations are only used to communicate within a species, while others can be used to communicate across species.
  • Some birds (“true songbirds”) learn their songs; for others, songs are innate.
  • Birds have a special structure called a syrinx that allows them to vocalize. Birds have ears and generally good hearing.
  • The Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library has over 100,000 audio clips. RavenViewer is a tool for visualizing sound. Spectrograms can be used to visualize the pitch, volume, and duration of a sound.
  • NGSS Disciplinary Core Idea’s (DCI) met by this theme.

Teaching Slides

Here is your PowerPoint file containing six slides:  Teaching Slides 2 Bird Talk  We’ve included the webinar slide with the images and sounds of seven common birds.

Links and Resources

  • Activities and Kits
    • Evolution in Paradise (Free Download) – Lesson 3 (“Heritable Behaviors”) invites students to go outside and look and listen for common birds such as the Red-winged Blackbird and Mallard.
    • Feathered Friends (Free download, two lessons fit this content):
      •  Every bird sings to the typical tune of its own species… from “cheer-up” to “caw!”  The April lesson in our lesson series (“Do you hear what I hear?”) contains several fun activities and exposes students to a world of bird calls and reasons for vocalizations.
      • Bird Communication—This lesson will have children listening and identifying sounds and learning the reasons and distinctions for calls and songs.
    • Sound Map: (Free Activity) – Create a sound map and wake up kids’ listening skills! Explore how and where sounds come from in your area.
  •  Recommended Resources
    • Check out the new Bird Biology’s interactive game to learn bird calls visually, Bird Song Hero.
    • Explore the sound and video archive on the Macaulay Library websiteThe Macaulay Library is the world’s leading scientific collection of biodiversity media, with more than 175,000 audio and 60,000 video recordings documenting the behavioral diversity of birds and other animals. The collections in our care inspire, educate, and entertain people around the globe.
    • Raven Viewer is a free tool that provides visuals to the sounds in Macaulay Library archive.
    • All About Birds:  Many common species in the searchable Bird Guide have song/call descriptions and common sounds to stream.  Here’s the Northern Cardinal page, but you can search for most North American species!
    • Cornell Lab offers a master and beginner set of bird calls and songs, for purchase as a download or via a USB drive that is shipped to you. You can visit their site to purchase the Cornell Guide to Bird Songs.
    • The Online Research in Biology (ORB)  website hosts four in depth investigations for upper high school to college level students.  Complete with teacher guides, student sheets and supporting PowerPoint and PDF downloadable resources, the Sound Trees lesson will have your students exploring and analyzing owl sounds through spectrograms.
    • The world’s last 350 North Atlantic right whales live along the East Coast. Collisions with ships are a deadly hazard, but new listening buoys are helping. Visit the Listen for Whales website to find out how.
  • Videos
    • Language of Birds: This animated video explores how and why birds communicate using sound and gives tips for becoming a better listener (9:42 running time; Cornell Lab of Ornithology YouTube channel).
    • Birds of Paradise Project Website:  They may be known for their variety of appearance, but the birds-of-paradise are equally impressive for the diversity of their sounds. Males use their voices to broadcast their location and entice distant females to come and look. Website is a collection of videos and information.
    • Explore how the Ruffed Grouse makes non-vocal sounds to communicate.

  • Voices: Common Loon”:  It’s something we do every day.  Whether we’re meeting a friend for lunch or playing a game of “Marco Polo,” we use communication to locate one another.  The common loom does the same thing.  The first loon says, “I’m here.  Where are you?”  Then the second responds, “I’m over here.”  Listen as these two common loons use evocative wails to communicate in this two-minute video on YouTube.
  • Birding by Ear: Northern Cardinal Song”:  This three-minute film on YouTube takes an in-depth look into the songs of the Northern Cardinal. Compared to the human voice box which can only produce one sound at a time, the Northern Cardinal’s syrinx can produce two sounds allowing beautiful songs to be produced.

Next Generation Science Standards:  DCI’s  pertaining to this webinar:

PS4.A: Wave Properties – A simple wave has a repeating pattern with a specific wavelength, frequency, and amplitude. (MS-PS4-1)

– A sound wave needs a medium through which it is transmitted. (MS-PS4-2)

LS1.A: Structure and Function – All organisms have external parts. Different animals use their body parts in different ways to see, hear, grasp objects, protect themselves, move from place to place, and seek, find, and take in food, water and air. Plants also have different parts (roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits) that help them survive and grow. (1-LS1-1)

LS1.B: Growth and Development of Organisms – Adult plants and animals can have young. In many kinds of animals, parents and the offspring themselves engage in behaviors that help the offspring to survive. (1-LS1-2)

LS1.D: Information Processing – Animals have body parts that capture and convey different kinds of information needed for growth and survival. Animals respond to these inputs with behaviors that help them survive. Plants also respond to some external inputs. (1-LS1-1)

PS4.A: Wave Properties – Waves of the same type can differ in amplitude (height of the wave) and wavelength (spacing between wave peaks). (4-PS4-1)

PS4.C: Information Technologies and Instrumentation – Digitized information can be transmitted over long distances without significant degradation. High-tech devices, such as computers or cell phones, can receive and decode information—convert it from digitized form to voice—and vice versa. (4-PS4-3)

4-LS1-2.Use a model to describe that animals receive different types of information through their senses, process the information in their brain, and respond to the information in different ways.

LS1.D: Information Processing – Different sense receptors are specialized for particular kinds of information, which may be then processed by the animal’s brain. Animals are able to use their perceptions and memories to guide their actions. (4-LS1-2)

LS4.C: Adaptation – For any particular environment, some kinds of organisms survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all. (3-LS4-3)
Connections to Nature of Science – Scientific Investigations Use a Variety of Methods

– Science investigations begin with a question. (1-PS4-1)

-Scientists use different ways to study the world. (1-PS4-1)