Learning Bird Song with Tom Stephenson, Thursday, 3/11/21, 7:00 pm

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Why do birds sing? How do they learn their bird songs? Want better ways of learning bird songs? This online program is for you!

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Sponsored by all five Westchester Audubon chapters: Central Westchester Audubon, Hudson River Audubon of Westchester, Bronx River Sound Shore Audubon, Bedford Audubon, and Saw Mill River Audubon


It takes energy to sing. So why do most birds spend so much time vocalizing? What are the different functions of songs and calls? Are songs learned or innate? And how do we know?

This online lecture via Zoom will begin with an overview of the different kinds of vocalizations that birds make, how they are acquired, and how the song-learning process unfolds. We’ll discuss why in early spring you might hear very odd songs from common species, and what that tells us about the singer.

We’ll also cover how many different kinds of vocalizations one individual bird might make, what they may mean, and discuss species that sing only one song across the US compared with other species that have hundreds of different songs.

We’ll then explore some strategies we can use when we hear a song we don’t recognize and see why traditional field guides aren’t much help.

Finally we’ll discuss general memorization theory and outline a simple and very effective technique for memorizing many bird songs.

So if you have ever had any questions about why birds are singing or wanted better ways of learning their songs, this is the lecture for you!

More About Tom Stephenson

Tom Stephenson has been birding since he was a kid under the tutelage of Dr. Arthur Allen of Cornell University. His articles and photographs are in museums and many publications including Birding, Birdwatcher’s Digest, Handbook of the Birds and Handbook of the Mammals of the World and Guide to the Birds of SE Brazil.

He has lectured and guided many groups across the US as well as in Asia, where he trained guides for the government of Bhutan. He has donated many recordings of Eastern Himalayan rarities and other Asian species to Cornell’s Macaulay Library of Natural sounds.

He was on Zeiss’s digiscoping team for the World Series of Birding and in 2011 his and Scott’s team won the World Series Cape Island Cup and in 2014 they set the US record for a Photo Big Day.

As a musician he played concerts and did studio work for many years, working with several Grammy and Academy Award winners. His clients included the Grateful Dead, Phil Collins and the FBI. He joined Roland Corporation in 1991, managed the recorder division, and retired recently as Director of Technology.

Tom Stephenson's latest book, The Warbler Guide, is published by Princeton University Press.

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