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Conservation & You

The Sounds of Spring

The Sounds of Spring 

By John Anderson, Zoo New England Director of Education 

sounds of spring header

With springtime officially here, it’s a good time to spend time outdoors with your children. Whether in your backyard or a nearby natural space, being outdoors is not only a healthy activity, but also an educational activity. While keeping a safe space between yourself and others with whom you have not already been in contact, you can explore with all of your senses. 

As you take time to listen, you will hear birds as they begin spring rituals that include singing to attract mates. In urban environments, you might listen for pigeons, mourning doves, house sparrows, starlings and more. If you are able to get to a large park area or woods, you’ll hear a different variety of birds. You can listen for sounds from squirrels, too, or raccoons or local cats or dogs. Focus on sounds from non-human sources and see what you can discover. What do you find beautiful? 

john and son

I recently visited a small, spring pond, called a vernal pool, in a wooded area not very far from where we live.  My son, who is twelve, and I were able to bicycle to get there. We listened carefully for wood frogs and spring peepers. We only heard a couple of wood frogs, and we heard several birds. We also heard dogs barking and other people’s voices and footsteps. My son wanted to go back again at night and the next day to see if we could hear different things at different times of day. 

Encourage your children to listen carefully and to try to describe what they hear. Good science skills include developing ways to communicate information that might not be easily described with words. For example, how could you describe a bird song or a frog call? At the bottom of this article, I’ve included some examples of ways people have answered this question. 

Try stepping outside at different times of day, and ask, “Do we hear the same types of sounds early in the morning as in the afternoon or evening or night?” By the way, I sometime listen from my bed early in the morning as I’m waking up.  At some times of year, I can hear many birds or insects without even getting up. Depending on your situation, you might be able to hear a lot, too. 

Encourage your children to consider questions such as, “What do you think we’re listening to?” “Can we find the thing that’s making the noise?” It may be fun to look carefully and spot the source of an interesting sound you’re hearing.  

Asking why questions is also a good way to encourage children to think about their own observations. “Why do you think that animal is making that sounds?”  “Why do you think it has a high pitch instead of a low pitch?” Or, a low instead of high pitch? You could ask, “What other sounds do you hear that might get in the way of that animal’s call?”  With older children, you could ask questions related to how people may be creating or restricting the space for homes for that kind of animal. 

Please spend some more time on this website and let me and my colleagues know what questions you have talked about with your children. Which questions did you have an interesting conversation about? What new questions did you or your children ask?   

Suggested Resources

  • Sounds of the American robin, and how bird scientists visualize sounds: 
  • Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology has many recordings of birds you can listen to, including the American robin. They also have an informative website about how and why birds sings.
  • The Earbirding website has a page that compares two different types of songs from American robins. The authors also offer a set of pages describing how to visualize sounds. 
  • What about frogs? What about crickets and other insects?  I encourage you to explore sounds of other species that you and your children are interested in. 

Listen

Red-winged blackbird
red-winged blackbird
American robin 1
American robin 2
American robin
Outdoor sounds
outdoor sounds

 

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