In 2017 I reviewed the first in the two-book set of Peterson reference guides to bird sounds of North America, east then, west in hand today.


I was dubious about using them. On second look, both of these books are helpful to someone like me, a guy with a tin ear. The value of this set extends to birders who have better ears.


Tin ear means an “insensitivity to and inability to appreciate the elements of performed music … the rhythm, elegance, or nuances …”


That’s me and bird sounds. I have trouble recreating in my mind what I just heard, how the sound/song was structured, when high, when low.


This pair of books from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt present massive amounts of work by author Nathan Pieplow. He has created thousands of spectrograms of bird sounds. 


A spectrogram is a sound made visible. You can see these bird songs and calls. 


Plus, there is reference to more than 6,000 bird sound files available online at With the song in my ear and the spectrogram in my eye, suddenly vague sounds take shape and make sense.


Sonograms take some study by the reader/listener. But being able to put sound to diagram is very helpful. I can hear better when I use my eyes.


We are learning a new language here, and, in essence, Pieplow explains the grammar, punctuation, dialect, and spelling.


Both of these books, “Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Western (Eastern) North America” are part of the Peterson Field Guide Series. They are books well made, with durable covers, and dozens of pages of instructions to help the reader/listener understand how all of this works. 


They are $28 each. The eastern book is in stores. The western book will be there in April. 


That’s migration time. Warblers and vireos will be singing, often from places you cannot see. If you began by learning only those songs from these books your birding season would be much the better for it.


Imagine seeing the songs and call notes.