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| The phonetic representations
included in this guide are intended to characterize briefly what a call
sounds like by highlighting key sound elements in the call, much the way
arrows point to key field marks in field guide illustrations. With
practice, phonetic representations can greatly assist birders in
remembering the characteristics of a flight call, making field
recognition of these calls easier. Each letter in a phonetic
representation is intended to represent a specific sound that would be
made by speaking in the English language. In order to make our phonetic
representations more accessible to a wider audience, we have opted not to
use the International Phonetic Association's phonetics alphabet used by
linguists and speech scientists. Instead, we have kept to the more limited
but much more familiar Roman alphabet used in the English language.
In general, consonants indicate how hard or soft a certain part of the call is. For example, a "p" represents a somewhat muffled hard sound, while a "t" represents a harder sound, and a "k" the sharpest, hardest sound.
Vowels generally indicate the relative pitch of a call as well as any change in pitch audible in the call. For example, a short "e" (as in "pet") is higher-pitched than a short "a" (as in "cat"), which in turn is higher-pitched than a short "o" (as in "cot"). Also, a short "i" (as in "kit") indicates a rising pitch, while a short "u" (as in "cut") indicates a slightly descending pitch, whereas a "w," though not a vowel per se, indicates a very descending pitch. In the case of the letter "e," a single "e" represents a short "e" sound (as in "pet") while two or more "e"s represent a long "e" sound (as in "feet"). Longer "e" sounds are indicated by stringing several vowels together.
Various letters or combinations of letters will be used to convey different sound characteristics, some of which may be audible throughout the call. An "s" will often be used to soften a consonant or to convey a sibilant or slurred quality. An "h" may be added to the beginning or end of a call to convey a very soft, fading quality. A "th" represents a lisping quality, and a series of "r"s represents a rolling, guttural quality. A "z" usually represents a hard buzzy quality, and a "v" a somewhat softer humming quality.
For calls with distinctly separated syllables, a hyphen is used between call segments. For calls where the elements are slurred together or where there are so many elements that they essentially sound slurred (some longspur rattles, for example), there are no hyphens used between segments.
Obviously not all sounds can be easily represented using the Roman alphabet. Because we used this more limited alphabet, it is much more difficult to represent some sounds. We therefore feel it is very important that these phonetic representations not stand on their own but instead are studied in combination with the rest of the flight call description as well as with the recorded calls and the spectrograms.