Equipment for recording bird songs

Simple recording equipment

You don't have to buy the microphones shown below to make recordings. If you have a smartphone, try using its recording function. Other devices, such as a mini digital voice recorder (which I use frequently), also can record bird calls. That said, the quality of the sound is not great. Smartphones and voice recorders are mainly designed to record people's voices, not high-frequency bird songs and calls. I find that the mini recorder I use does a good job of capturing lower notes, from woodpecker drumming to owls hooting to rich songsters like American Robin and Black-headed Grosbeak. It does not do well with high pitched songs, such as Brown Creeper, Orange-crowned Warbler, and others. The lower-quality recordings are fine if you only need them for identification purposes.

Another caveat: smartphones record everything that you hear, from people talking next to you, to sounds of leaves being crunched beneath your feet, as well as the desired song farther away in a tree or bush. Standing quietly while you record will help considerably, yet cannot match the focus of a parabolic microphone aimed at a songster 80 feet away.

Parabolic microphones

Parabolic microphones are ususally made of hard plastic in various sizes; some are collapsible.Parabolic Microphone

The size of the dish determines what frequencies of songs/calls the recorder can capture. High-pitched songs and calls have very short wavelengths, and are easily captured by the dish. Low-pitched calls have much longer wavelengths. If the wavelength is longer than the size of the parabolic dish, it just goes past, and is not captured at all.Sooty Grouse For a 24 inch diameter parabolic disk, anything lower than roughly 550 Hertz in frequency will not be picked up. Refer to the Sonograms page to see what you would miss on the woodpecker drumming. A sound like the booming of a Sooty Grouse (to right - red line at 550 Hertz) would not register at all. To capture its booming more accurately, you would need a dish over five feet across. Try carrying that around!

Handheld directional microphones

Also known as a "Shotgun" mic due to its shape.Shotgun Microphone Some of the qualities of this type of microphone:

Which one to choose?

Donald Kroodsma, who has recorded birds in the field for decades, opines the following in The Singing Life of Birds:

"So a shotgun mike may record sounds as we hear them, with lots of natural reverberation and echo, but the parabola captures the songs more like the bird sang them, as if reaching out and grabbing the sound directly from the bird's bill. I want the parabola."


The microphone by itself isn't enough, whether you choose a parabolic or shotgun type. You will also need a recorder, with a cable to connect it to the microphone. Digital models vary in their ability to record the sounds you want, while keeping input noise down.

Some websites with information on recording systems: –Equipment packages recommended by Cornell Labs. –An informative British site.


Black Oystercatcher

Shrill cries through sea mists,

in a line, gray
ghosts wing past,

red bills point



Website and photographs 2013 by Gordon Beebe