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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

Early Spring Songs (Washington State)

In March, we welcome the lengthening days and the renewal of bird song. Among the earliest spring singers in the Northwest is this House Finch, whose sweet, jumbled song carries along city blocks and rocky canyons. And spring songs are breaking out all over the country. Listen to the song of the... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  migration, vocalization

Spring Brings New Bird Songs

All winter long, our neighborhood House Finches--like this one--have called to one another with their distinctive, sweet cheeps. And our resident Song Sparrows, with calls that sound like a tiny barking dog. But as the days grow longer in late winter, the lengthening light helps trigger a bird's... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  migration, vocalization

How Birds Produce Sound

Nearly all birds produce sound through an organ unique to birds, the syrinx. In many songbirds, the syrinx is not much bigger than a raindrop. Extremely efficient, it uses nearly all the air that passes through it. By contrast, a human creates sound using only 2% of the air exhaled through the... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  science, vocalization

Henry David Thoreau and the Wood Thrush

In June 1853, Thoreau wrote of an enchanting encounter with the Wood Thrush: "This is the only bird whose note affects me like music. It lifts and exhilarates me. It is inspiring. It changes all hours to an eternal morning." Wood Thrushes thrive in large expanses of forest. And their numbers have... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  migration, vocalization

Bird Songs Reflect Habitat

The Canyon Wren's eloquent song soothes the soul. Naturalist Ralph Hoffman likened it to "the spray of a waterfall in sunshine." Its close cousin, the Marsh Wren, wound up with a harsh, ratcheting song - about as musical as a tiny machine-gun barrage. Birds' songs mirror their environments. The... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Strange Sounds

What an amazing array of sounds birds have to offer! The call of a male Yellow Rail sounds like someone tapping two small stones together. And Turkey Vultures hissing at one another over a carcass sound like a snarling lion. The duet between the male and female Barred Owls seen here is especially... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  sound, vocalization

Sooty Tern

Sooty Terns have long been called "wide-awakes" because of their calls. But it may describe their sleeping habits, too. When young terns leave their breeding grounds, they don't return for several years. They do not rest on the water, and only rarely land on floating objects. They feed while... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Tune Up Your Ears - West

By March in the West, Song Sparrows and other songbirds that don't migrate are already singing heartily to attract mates. Many other birds - including this Warbling Vireo - will return north from the tropics in April and May, announcing themselves in song as soon as they arrive in nesting areas.... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  migration, vocalization

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