Bird song mnemonics – Updated!

A while back, I was birding with a hardcore twitcher in Australia.  He had requested a list of the Australian birds I had seen the day before and had planned out a route to try to get me a hundred more ticks (i.e. new life birds) by the end of the day.  We headed out at 5 am and birded until 10 pm, without even stopping for lunch.  It was amazing.

At one point during the day, I said to him, “In the US, we come up with little mnemonics or phrases to remember the bird calls by…for example, the chickadee says, ‘Hey sweetie!’  Do you have mnemonics for bird songs here?”

He contemplated it for a minute, then said, “Yeah, the White-plumed Honeyeater says ‘Shit a brick!'”

I choked on the water I was drinking and he patted me on the back while I was coughing.

Later, we encountered the bird and I’ll be gosh darned if that isn’t exactly what it said.

"Shit a brick!" Photo by Richard Waring

“Shit a brick!” This gorgeous photo by Richard Waring

My blogger friend Rolling Harbour mentioned some good Abaco ones in a comment on an earlier post.  “In the case of the black-whiskered vireo in the Bahamas, the ‘cheap-John-stirrup-sweet-Joe-clear’!”

A while ago I posted a children’s book with the 30 most common backyard birds of northeastern North America and their songs, but those aren’t necessarily the most fun ones, so here are some of my favourites, with photos stolen (and properly attributed, I hope) liberally from the internet.

Sweet, sweet!  I’m so sweet!

Yellow Warbler, photo by Friends of Sherwood Island

Yellow Warbler, photo by A.J. Hand

Oh sweet Canada Canada!

This one's mine!  White throated sparrow

This one’s mine! White throated sparrow

Looking for me? Over here! Can you see me?

Hey this one's mine too!  Red-eyed vireo

Hey this one’s mine too! Red-eyed vireo

Feeeeee-bee!

Another SOIMF photo, Eastern Phoebe

Another SOIMF photo, Eastern Phoebe

Po-ta-to CHIP

Another SOIMF photo, American Goldfinch

Another SOIMF photo, American Goldfinch

Drink your TEEEEAAAAAA!

Another SOIMF photo, Eastern Towhee

Another SOIMF photo, Eastern Towhee

Who cooks for you? WHO cooks for you all?!

Another SOIMF photo, Barred Owls

Another SOIMF photo, Barred Owls

I’m so lazzeeeeee! (or Please, please, please, squeeze!)

Black throated blue warbler, photo by

Black throated blue warbler, photo by Lloyd Spitalnik

Toot-sweet!

Bobwhite, photo by

Bobwhite, photo source

Drop-it; drop-it; cover-it-up; cover-it-up; pull-it-up; pull-it-up!

Another SOIMF classic (haha), Brown Thrasher

Another SOIMF classic (haha), Brown Thrasher

Teaaaa-kettle tea-kettle tea-kettle

Carolina Wren, photo by

Carolina Wren, photo by Cheri Southwick

Pleased-pleased-pleased-pleased-ta-meetcha!

Chestnut sided warbler, source

Chestnut sided warbler, photo source

But I DO love you!

Eastern Meadowlark, photo by

Eastern Meadowlark, photo by Gene Oleynik

Oh!  Dear me!  Three blind mice!

Why don’tcha come to me?

Another SOIMF photo, Hermit Thrush

Another SOIMF photo, Hermit Thrush

I’m I’m I’m so sweet!

Another SOIMF photo, Magnolia Warbler

Another SOIMF photo, Magnolia Warbler

Madge, Madge, Madge, pick beetles off, the water’s hot!

Another SOIMF photo, Song Sparrow

Another SOIMF photo, Song Sparrow

Listen to my evening sing-ing-ing-ing!

Vesper Sparrow, photo source

Vesper Sparrow, photo source

If I sees you, I will seize you!  I will squeeze you til you squirt! (to a caterpillar, we can only assume)

Warbling Vireo, photo by (PS very cute, have not seen this bird in the wild)

Warbling Vireo, photo by Julia Flanagan (PS very cute, have not seen this bird in the wild)

Quick!  Give me a rain check

White eyed vireo, photo source

White eyed vireo, photo source

Any other bird mnemonics you love?  Share them in the comments and I will add them.  🙂

NB: In retrospect, I’m surprised by how many of these birds I already had!

UPDATE: suggestions from the comments!

Jeff Ollerton suggests the Great Kiskadee:

Bem te vi! (which translates to I see you well!)

Great Kiskadee, photo source

Great Kiskadee, photo source

and the Yellowhammer:

Little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese

This bird is super cute, I want to see one!  photo source

This bird is super cute, I want to see one! photo by Jiri Bohdal

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17 thoughts on “Bird song mnemonics – Updated!

  1. Not quite a mnemonic, but the Great Kiskadee is known in Brazil as the Bem-te-vi after its distinctive call. In the UK the Yellowhammer’s call is often described as “little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese”.

  2. I’m always puzzled by bird names that are supposedly onomatopoeic. Bobwhites sort of sound like ‘Bob….White?’ played on a child’s sliding whistle. But Killdeer? Willets? Not to me! RH

  3. Can ANYONE tell me what bird sounds like “Hey Birdie?” He signs it a few times in the morning and then I hear him in the evening. Never enough time to get a recording. I can’t see him. Sometimes he puts a “Well hey birdie?” in there but nothing else. I’ve searched for hours on the internet looking for the call. I’m in Davis Ca btw so if anyone knows?! PLEASE tell me!!
    thanks, Bonnie

      • I double checked. No it’s not a Chickadee . It’s a clearer sound too. Less nasal sounding. When I first heard him a couple of months ago. He sounded like “Hey Birdie?!?” With a little uplift on the “e” at the end, like he’s asking a question. He’s changes it around a bit now…but still the “hey birdie” is at the base of it. He only does it a couple times. Then he’s quiet. He has my daughter and I trained, what ever we are doing we drop it and run that direction and we never see him. She’s put a recorder outside but he never sings when it’s on. She is graduating next month from Davis with a biology degree. I told her see can’t until she finds out what bird it is 🙂 Thank you. I appreciate your help. If you can think of anything else please let me know Thanks Bonnie Sent from my iPad

        >

      • No it’d definitely not a Cardinal. I’m in Davis, Calif. They don’t have Cardinals up here.It’s not a Mockingbird because he doesn’t say anything else. This is just a couple short and sweet notes then he’s off again. I’m starting to wonder if it’s a pet bird that got lost or something.

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