Mnemonics Fun

American Goldfinch, molting into breeding plumageTwo weeks ago I talked about bird song mnemonics, and how helpful they can be. Today being April 1, I thought we’d have some fun. Instead of my usual monthly bird quiz, I’ve assembled a list of 15 popular bird songs, translated into English. Can you identify the bird that says each phrase?

If that proves to be too much of a challenge, click on the “continued reading” button for a list of candidates. Answers are at the end, no fooling. Enjoy!

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What’s That, You Say?

Cactus Wren_DesertMuseum-AZ_LAH_4630I admit it—I’m terrible at identifying bird sounds. They can screech and chirp and warble and coo all they want, and I have no idea who’s making the racket. Well, that’s not quite true. I do recognize really easy birds such as a Spotted Towhee, Canyon Wren, Swainson’s Thrush,  Townsend’s Solitaire, or Cactus Wren (right). I can identify a chickadee’s “chick-a-dee-dee-dee,” too, but I can’t tell a Black-capped from a Mountain without looking.

It’s all right to rely on my (rather poor) eyesight during the winter, when there are no leaves on the trees, but I miss too many birds the rest of the year—and if I do see them, I can’t identify them. It’s not from lack of trying. I can listen to a recording and try to fix it in my mind, but a minute later I have no recollection of what I just heard. I need help.

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And a partridge in a pear tree…

We’re all familiar with The Twelve Days of Christmas, maybe to the point where we don’t really listen to the words. Did you ever stop and realize that there are a lot of birds in that song? Think about it…

  • 7 swans a swimming
  • 6 geese a laying
  • 4 calling birds (probably originally “colly” birds)
  • 3 French hens
  • 2 turtle doves
  • and a partridge in a pear tree

According to Wikipedia, “Textual evidence indicates that the song was not English in origin, but French, though it is considered an English carol.” French or English, the birds are therefore European species, unfamiliar to Americans. Would we have wanted these birds as Christmas gifts?

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