Listen Up! This activity is all about songs and calls. Students listen to the different calls made by three different birds, and then try to identify a "mystery call."

In the process, they begin to recognize some common calls, and learn the messages they convey.

Speakers or headphones are necessary!



These are the three birds in this game:

Red-winged Blackbird
This bird is a highly polygynous species, which mates with 2-3 females in drier areas and 3-6 females in marsh areas. Females will mate with several partners during a season. This bird tends to nest in freshwater marshes, it may also nest in hayfields, swamps, and wet upland habitats. Its breeding range is from Canada to Central America. Wintering grounds are in the south. Red-winged Blackbirds migrate by day, foraging for grain along the way. Their summer diet is mostly insects, not grains and seeds like in the winter. Males must secure a territory to successfully breed. Males display their red epaulets (shoulder feathers) and spread their tail when singing their songs. Songs are used for courtship displays and territorial defenses.

Black-capped Chickadee
This bird is a rather tame backyard bird found throughout North America. These birds can be found at backyard feeders or in wooded areas eating seeds. The vocalization that this bird is most famous for is the “chick-a-dee-dee” which is one of the most difficult vocalizations in the animal world. Depending on slight variations in the phrasing of the vocalization the meaning behind the sound can range from a simple contact call to an alarm call. This is a non-migratory species.

American Goldfinch
This “wild canary” is a backyard favorite. It can be found throughout most of North America. The goldfinch loves thistle and other seeds from various trees. These birds have one of the latest breeding seasons from other backyard birds. Birds found in the Eastern part of the United States will nest starting in April but will not breed until July. Breeding may depend on the flowering of the thistle plant. Goldfinches nesting abilities are incredible since the small nest is woven tightly with plant fibers and will retain water. This is not always good, since there is a chance that babies can drown while in the nest. Both parents will raise the young.


Use the resources below to familiarize yourself with many more bird calls and songs. Take your students outside to try to identify local birds by ear. Another way to do this is to go on a birdwatching walk, and describe or name the birds you see. Then you can use these links below to identify the birds you've seen by their calls and songs.


Listen to the calls of some of the more common North American birds.

Calls of birds that have been spotted at a national park in South Dakota.

A great reference all about owls, with calls.

This English site features recordings of 750 different species from 28 different countries.

From the PBS series, Life of Birds, a great article on birdsong, with a few audio files.

Cornell's Ornithology lab is a great general resource on birds, with photos and calls for identification.

  Hunters & Hunted
  What's for Lunch?
  How's the Water
  Beaks are Tools
  Backyard Birdfeeder
  Shapes & Sizes
  Lift Off
  A Big Enough Wing
  Migration Hopscotch
Sing Out Loud
  Virtual Incubator
  Dance of Love
  On the Egg
  Becoming a Bird
  The Big Deal: The Feather
  Dead or Alive
  Are Birds Dinosaurs?

All contents copyright © 2002, 2006 National Aviary