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vocalization

Do Crows Sing?

It’s been said that if someone knows only three birds, one of them will be the crow. They’re common, easy to see, and even easier to hear. But crow voices are complicated. Altogether, crows may use 30 sound elements in different combinations, and one of the most intriguing is their song. Unlike... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Northern Saw-whet Owl - A Bird with a Lot to Say

For such a small owl, the Northern Saw-whet has a lot to say. And a lot of ways to say it. Males weigh about as much as an American Robin. And they send out at least 11 different calls, including “toot-toot-toot” advertising calls, from late January through May. The rate of calling is partly... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Hold the Phone

Many birds are difficult to see, such as the Sora. Its plumage blends perfectly with the dense marsh grass where it lives. So how can we get a good look at this denizen of the undergrowth? One way is to play a bird-call app on a mobile device. But using an app requires sensitivity. Because stress... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Birdsong, Music, and Neuroscience

Brain imaging studies have shown that hearing enjoyable music “lights up” the mesolimbic reward pathway in the human brain. But how does a bird experience a song from its own species? Scientists at Emory University found a similar pattern in the sparrow’s brain. Female White-throated Sparrows,... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  sound, vocalization

Bluethroat

One of the most remarkable singers on the European continent is the Bluethroat. Often singing while fluttering aloft, Bluethroats mix their own song elements with imitations of just about every bird within hearing distance. They'll even try their luck with crickets, tree frogs, and train whistles... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Voices and Vocabularies - Songs Long and Short

When a Sage Thrasher, perched on a clump of sagebrush, tips its head back to sing, the notes rush forth. They often sing non-stop for at least two minutes. In stark comparison, the song of this Brewer’s Blackbird lasts barely a second. And the Henslow’s Sparrow values brevity even more. But... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Singer's Brain Changes with the Seasons

In higher animals, the brain is like a BMW — amazing engineering, but expensive to run. In a human, the brain uses about 10 times more energy than other organs. A bird's system is exquisitely attuned to this expense. Several species, including Black-capped Chickadees, have adapted in a... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  science, vocalization

Speech and Birdsong - The Genetics of Vocal Learning

Some birds are born with the ability to sing. Others learn to sing while they're young — just like humans, who must learn to speak. It turns out that vocal learning in songbirds and humans may have more in common than anyone suspected. Recent DNA research reveals that songbirds and humans share a... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  science, vocalization

Birds That Whistle

Many bird songs are rich and complex, difficult to remember, and nearly impossible to imitate. Some species' songs, however, sound as if they could have been whistled by a human. These simpler, pure-noted songs are some of the most familiar and easy to remember. These songs -- including the "pee... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birdwatching by ear, vocalization

Why Some Birds Sing in the Winter

By late January, some resident birds, such as the Northern Mockingbird, are beginning their spring singing. When you step outside on a particularly sunny day this winter, a Fox Sparrow like the one pictured here may be warming up for the coming spring. And as far north as British Columbia,... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

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