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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

Tune Up Your Ears - East

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

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Topics & Themes:  migration, vocalization

Turkey Calling - Real or Unreal

Preston Pittman won his first turkey-calling contest when he was only 16, and he makes the sounds with his mouth. Sadler McGraw uses the "friction" technique. He pulls a "striker" - almost like a screwdriver - across a crystal surface. It sounds for all the world like a Wild Turkey, and it won... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  humor, 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

Bird Sound Types and Qualities Part III

When it's just too hard to see the bird you hear, let your ears take over! Listen for the qualities of the sound as well as the pattern. A flute-like and upward-spiraling sound is characteristic of this Swainson's Thrush. Quite a contrast to the plaintively whistled notes of a Black-capped... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Why Birds Sing

Why do birds sing? Ornithologists have learned that the longer hours of light that come with spring trigger the release of hormones in birds. These hormones prompt the enlargement of the birds' gonads which, in turn, stimulate male birds to sing. Male birds - like this Black-headed Grosbeak - can... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  breeding display, nesting, vocalization

Birds Return with the Light

Winter's weak light is finally beginning to strengthen, and some birds, long absent, have begun their journeys north. Tree Swallows, such as this one, phoebes, bluebirds, and more return with the light. So be of good cheer, the birds and Spring are coming back. You can learn more about this... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  migration, vocalization

Bird Song ID

Roger Tory Peterson, the best known American figure of 20th Century birdwatching, offered help on birding by ear. Whenever he could, he provided a catchphrase to identify a bird's song. "Witchety-witchety-witchety" captures the song of this Common Yellowthroat. The California Quail seems to say, ... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birdwatching, sound, vocalization

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