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Voices and Vocabularies - Songs Suit Surroundings

When a Canyon Wren sings, the brilliance of its sweet music can stop you in your tracks. But when its cousin, the Marsh Wren (seen here), sings, you may reach for your earplugs. Why do two closely related birds sing such contrasting songs? In the wren’s world, where song is essential to... read more »

Topics & Themes:  birdwatching by ear, vocalization

Voices and Vocabularies - How Birds Sing So Loudly

When a Carolina Wren like this one sings, something remarkable happens. These birds can sing so loudly that you almost have to shout to be heard over their songs!How can a bird like a Carolina Wren – at just 5½ inches long and weighing only as much as four nickels – produce so much sound? The... read more »


Laysan Albatrosses Nest at Midway Atoll

Midway Atoll is the winter home of nearly a million nesting albatrosses. Laysan Albatrosses return to Midway in November to breed. Roughly 450,000 pairs wedge their way into a scant 2½ square miles of land surface. And why do Laysans nest in winter? Well, the big birds forage mostly at night, so... read more »

Topics & Themes:  breeding display, nesting, vocalization

Owls Vocalizing in Fall

Why do owls ramp up their territorial calls during fall while most songbirds have already ramped down? read more »


What the Pacific Wren Hears

What does the Pacific Wren hear in a song? It's a long story. What we hear as a blur of sound, the bird hears as a precise sequence of sounds, the visual equivalent of seeing a movie as a series of still pictures. That birds can hear the fine structure of song so acutely allows them to convey... read more »

Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Shakespeare's Lark and Nightingale with Rod Molzahn

Birds play important roles in many of Shakespeare’s plays. In Romeo and Juliet, the Lark sings at dawn and the Nightingale’s song fills the evening. At a moment of great peril, the Lark warns the lovers their time is short. Both the Skylark and the Nightingale are nondescript birds – but their... read more »

Topics & Themes:  language, vocalization

Songs and Calls - They're Not the Same

To our ear, the haunting song of this Hermit Thrush is musical, even ethereal. To another Hermit Thrush, the song signals that a male is laying claim to a territory and seeking a mate. These thrushes, like other songbirds, broadcast a variety of calls. Call notes can signal many things – alarm at... read more »

Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Three Buntings - Indigo, Lazuli, and Painted

Each spring and summer, Indigo Buntings sing their buzzy, jumbled songs from brushy edges throughout the Eastern US. West of the Rockies, a different bunting sings his song. Named for the gemstone lapis lazuli, a male Lazuli Bunting shimmers an iridescent azure. He looks as if he might have been... read more »

Topics & Themes:  plumage, vocalization

Swainson's Warbler

On a fine May morning in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a song issues from within a rhododendron thicket. It's a Swainson's Warbler — one of North America's shyest birds. These birds forage quietly on the ground, flipping over leaves to expose and capture insects. They scurry away, calling... read more »

Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Bird Songs Reflect the Environment

Different sounds travel better in different environments. The explosive notes of a Marsh Wren carry well through thick vegetation. A Common Yellowthroat's choppy, repetitive song rattles right through a stand of cattails. An Olive-sided Flycatcher sings from atop a tall tree, its song carrying at... read more »