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vocalization

Vernal Equinox - East

This Carolina Wren doesn't know the precise instant of the vernal equinox of course. But the wren senses the growing hours of daylight through a surge of hormones, which tell it it's time to sing. Both science and folklore tie Spring to the renewal of nature, as the world awakens from the long,... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  migration, vocalization

Vernal Equinox - West

Ahhh, the first day of spring . . . at last! And the birds know somethin' is up. Both science and folklore tie Spring to the renewal of nature, as the world awakens from the long cold winter. Here's a Virginia Rail, usually unseen but hardly unheard, ringing in the new season. Spring has sprung.... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  migration, vocalization

A Long Story in a Short Song

What we hear as a blur of sound, a 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 much information in a short sound. Winter Wrens are found most... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

The Savvy Wren

Because many birds are largely silent in winter, it may seem that they have left us. But many remain, and even the shy and secretive sometimes reveal themselves. A Winter Wren may dart from hiding to grab a meal. The Winter Wren of the East and the Pacific Wren of the West are tiny woodland birds... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birdwatching, reflection, vocalization

Silly Willow Ptarmigan

Some bird songs leave us in admiration of their beauty, some with a sense of wonder at their complexity—and others are downright comical. As a maker of silly sounds, the male Willow Ptarmigan beats the Three Stooges hands down. But these sounds are no laughing matter. Where it nests in the... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  humor, vocalization

The Sneeze of Willow Flycatcher

Willow Flycatchers arrive later than most other migrants, usually at the end of May. They're coming from South America, a long way to fly for a bird that weighs less than half an ounce. A male Willow Flycatcher aggressively defends its territory against other males and soon attracts a mate. Their... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Swainson's Thrushes - Reassured by their Return

Swainson's Thrushes return each spring, having made long journeys from Central and South America. They've flown over mountains, cities, and miles of water. Their safe arrival is in no way assured. Listen in late May and early June for their exploratory call, a bright "whit!" Later, in the summer,... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  migration, vocalization

Dawn in the Marsh

It's dawn in a western marsh in mid-summer, and man! Those birds are singin'! The males of more than a dozen species are staking out their territories and attracting mates. One of the noisiest of all is the Red-winged Blackbird. He sings not to attract just one mate, but to gather a whole harem!... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Three Brown Thrushes

The Swainson's Thrush, the Hermit Thrush, and the Veery are small, brown birds, but their songs clearly distinguish them. The Swainson's Thrush announces its presence in early spring with subtle, limpid "whit" or "wink" sounds. Many rate it among the finest singers. A Veery's phrases... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birdwatching by ear, sound, vocalization

Swan Song

The idea of the "swan song" recurs from Aesop to Ovid to Plato to Tennyson. Ovid described it, "There, she poured out her words of grief, tearfully, in faint tones, in harmony with sadness, just as the swan sings once, in dying, its own funeral song." But it's based on a sweet fallacy - that a... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  myth, vocalization

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