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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

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

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 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

What Bird Has the Coolest Song?

There are more than 10,000 species of birds in the world, and each has a unique song. When we recently asked, "Which bird makes the coolest sound?" over 50 species were nominated! So which bird received the most votes? The Common Raven landed at number three, with the Western Meadowlark just... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Early Spring Songs (Bay-area, California version)

In March, we welcome the lengthening days and the renewal of bird song. Among the earliest spring singers in California are American Robin (left), Fox Sparrow, and Wrentit. Listen to the songs of these birds, plus thousands of others at Cornell University's Macaulay Library website. Learn more... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  migration, vocalization

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