Bird sound encoding

Nice thread. I’m reading a book called The Genius of Birds right now. Fascinating.

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I am amazed at how cooperative and informative this thread has been. Beautiful interactions had by all.

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That looks interesting.

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I met with Jennifer Ackerman when she was in Australia promoting the book - hanging out at gatherings with my birder friends. We talked about the section (hopefully I am remembering correctly) about chickadees and the way they cache food. Jennifer was likening it to them using a memory palace because of the way the retrieve them not by the order they were buried but by first retrieving the ones which will rot first.

When you read it, deeptravel, you might like to correct my recollection, and / or offer an opinion on whether birds use memory palaces. Or I could check the copy I have of the book. Shall do if necessary.



Yes, when I was reading about the Clark’s nutcracker and the Chickadees, I was amazed. They have tremendous spatial memory. The Clark’s Nutcracker will cache 30,000 seeds to get through the winter in up to 5,000 different locations.

Regarding memory palaces, I don’t think birds use them because memory palaces are a conscious tool that we create. They just have great spatial memory.

That’s great that you met her.

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Makes sense! I agree.

@LynneKelly I think birds do use a type of memory palace. They call them seedlines :grin:.

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Oh you funny.

I memorized a few bird calls over 10 years ago and I was using merely associations which I just connected with the bird. Connections I had to think of when I heard the bird. For the oriole for instance I was imagining him wolf-whistling a pretty woman. For the hoopoe I was imagining him boarding a submarine. But I only memorized the calls of 52 birds, didn’t take it far.

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I want to use all the types of methods you mention, but add a visual component. It is a lovely challenge with a very long way to go. Oriole is definitely one I will try. I just hear to saying ‘ori-ole’ but there are lots of orioles. I am doing the olive-backed oriole. 52 calls is going really well. I am far from there yet.

I didn’t know there were more orioles, because in Germany this bird is just called “Pirol” with no additions to it. Maybe there is just one kind of oriole in German nature.

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I just came back from a walk where a Northern cardinal was hidden in a tree talking to me. I visualized the call instictively but it wasn’t a shape as I did with the robin. It became an association with other similar sounds I knew. Then I could see that just like visual systems, the auditory systems are very similar.

The three systems I use often in visual imagery are peg words, associative images, and images from shapes. For instance, George Washington is the White House with a tie using the Major system. Washington can become a chopped down cherry tree. Or I could imagine something in the shape of the Washington monument.

I converted the robin’s call to notes on a page so I could have a shape. Shapes aren’t too popular and I found it difficult to put the cardinal’s non-melodic song into notes. Other people use a type of peg system where words like trills and unique words come to mind. I ended up using an associative system for the cardinal.

The one I heard had a two part call and another online had a three part. The first part was the red cleric motioning with his finger and short whistle to come over like “hey! hey!” Then he unloaded a pistol on me with a quick burst of shots (online only). Then he pulled out his laser weapon and like a kid added the sound effects five or so times of “Pew pew pew pew pew.”

I don’t think this will work in a calligraphic style, @LynneKelly, but it works for me in my head. I think the more sound effects and short pieces of music you know, the better your associations might be. I’ll be making this my default bird song system.

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I was at the bookstore yesterday and ran into two new useful resources that looked interesting in this space.

Specific to birdsong, there was

200 Bird Songs from Around the World by Les Beletsky (Becker & Mayer, 2020, ISBN: ‎ 978-0760368831)

Read about and listen to birds from six continents. A beautiful painting illustrates each selection along with concise details about the bird’s behavior, environment, and vocalizations. On the built-in digital audio player, hear each bird as it sings or calls in nature with audio of the birds provided by the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

This could be useful in using the book itself as a memory palace in addition to the fact that the bird calls are built directly into the book for immediate playback while reading/memorizing. There are a few other related books with built in sound in this series as well.

The other broader idea was that of

“A bird a day”

I saw the book A Bird A Day by Dominic Couzens (Batsford, 2021, ISBN: 978-1849945868) to help guide one towards learning about (or in our context maybe memorizing) a bird a day. It had names, photos, and other useful information which one might use to structure a palace to work at in small chunks. I know there are also many other related calendars which might also help one do something like this to build up a daily practice of memorizing data into a palace/journey/songline.

The broader “Thing-a-day” calendar category might also be useful for other topics one might want to memorize as well as to have a structure set up for encouraging spaced repetition.


I was just noticing that there are two separate threads on the forum which should be cross linked for reference.
See also: How to remember bird calls