An Approach to Identifying Bird Songs: A Key to more than 300 Songs in the Pipeline Road Area, Soberanía National Park, Panama

Kent Livezey*
East Coast Tower, Costa del Este, Panama City, Panama

© Kent Livezey; Licensee Bentham Open.

open-access license: This is an open access article licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 4.0 International Public License (CC BY-NC 4.0) (, which permits unrestricted, non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the work is properly cited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the East Coast Tower, Costa del Este, Panama City, Panama; Tel: 507-831-1141; E-mail:



Identifying bird songs is an integral part of censusing, watching, and enjoying birds. However, doing so can be difficult due to the large variety of songs and, often, subtle differences among them. One way to facilitate this is to place songs into a descriptive key, thereby analyzing each song as well as identifying similarities and differences among songs.


Here I present a key to bird songs in a bird-rich location in and adjacent to the Pipeline Road area, Soberanía National Park, Panama, to help researchers and birders in Panama identify and learn these songs, and, more importantly, to provide a model for a key to aid in the analysis and characterization of bird songs in other areas.


After an unfruitful attempt to find a key I could use as a template, I developed an order of choices that groups similar songs, eliminates duplication, and optimizes the probability of correctly identifying them. The order is: trill or churr, slur (for songs that do not trill or churr), tempo, pitch, and other pertinent attributes. I followed a published system of descriptive units of bird songs (i.e., element, phrase, section) and gleaned from many sources how to describe various aspects of bird songs (e.g., pitch, quality, tempo). Definitions of terms and final choices are linked to recordings of songs available in


This key includes 321 songs of 216 species in the intact rainforest along southern Pipeline Road and the fragmented forests and wetlands adjacent to the southern entrance to Pipeline Road. These songs include all but the most rarely heard songs of the area.


This key is the first example of a descriptive key to bird songs in Central or South America, and is unique in at least the western hemisphere in its large scope, ordering of choices, and use of links to xeno-canto. It also provides a model for the construction of keys for bird songs in other areas. In addition, this work describes and utilizes many aspects of bird songs that, if employed, can improve your abilities to listen to, remember, and differentiate among songs.

Keywords:: Bird song key, Panama, Pipeline Road, Soberanía National Park, xeno-canto.