Bruce’s Birdtography: Birding by Ear for Photographers

Yellow warbler (male)

Many bird photographers, visual as they are, focus on learning to identify birds by sight. But I am finding that learning to identify birds by sound can be a useful tool, too.

On a recent bird photography outing, I ran into a fellow photographer while I was looking for birds at a local lake. My friend is hearing-impaired, and as we were looking for birds to photograph, a bird began to sing in the tree above our heads: sweet-sweet-l’m-so-sweet! That was the moment I realized how vital birding by ear can be to photographers. I heard the bird singing above us, but my friend did not. I quickly got her attention and pointed to it. In recognizing its song, I knew what to look for—a yellow warbler.

Tuning your ears to listen for bird song can not only help you identify a bird before you see it but can also help you locate birds more efficiently, instead of relying on a flash of movement or color through dense foliage.

Now that most trees are fully leafed out, it is challenging to see birds in the foliage. But you can still hear them, which can help you pinpoint where to look, hoping for that brief moment to snap the shutter button, if you’re lucky.

If you are interested in learning more about birding by ear, you can read a great three-part series by Tom Stephenson in the March/April, May/June, and July/August issues of Bird Watcher’s Digest.

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