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Top, Dickscissel; bottom, Western Meadowlark

Top, Dickscissel;
bottom, Western Meadowlark

(Courtesy NEBRASKAland Magazine/NGPC)

Recognizing other members of your species is very important when you're a bird. You'll know them by their markings as well as by their calls and songs.

Young birds learn to recognize the markings and song of their parents right away. When a bird is old enough to seek a mate of its own, it will seek out birds that look and sound like its parents. In this way the bird is sure to choose a member of its own species. (Maybe you've heard the old saying, "birds of a feather flock together.")

Vocalizations are just as important as markings when it comes to species recognition.

A bird's song can tell other birds its species and sex, and can even identify the individual bird. Song characteristics include:

the length of the song
the time between notes
the frequency

the order of the song elements (called syntax)

the structure of the elements (their duration and frequency)

As a bird observer, you can use your knowledge of colorful markings and unique music to identify most species of birds you encounter. Sometimes you need both the visual and the audio cues to know who you're seeing.

For example, from looking at these photos, can you tell which one is the Western Meadowlark and which is the Eastern Meadowlark?

Don't feel bad if you don't know Eastern from Western. These birds look virtually identical! But each meadowlark has a distinctive song. Even skilled birdwatchers must rely on the unique songs each species sings to determine which meadowlark is which.


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