Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Shortgrass Prairie of eastern Colorado, Pawnee National Grassland, Briggsdale, Colorado

May 30, 6:40 a.m.

Sunrise at 5:26 a.m.

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Thirteen minutes in the life of a lark bunting as he works his territory. In the first song, hear him take flight, his wings beating the air as he rises from his perch to sing on the wing. He flies again at 0:44, but the song is different this time. If the song formula for the five phrases in the first song is written as "a b c d e," this song is "a f c g e," with three of the phrases shared by the two songs. Those are all seven song phrases in his repertoire, and he rearranges these seven so that he generates a considerable variety of songs.

In this selection, his shorter songs are while perched high in a bush, the longer while in flight. Sometimes he is near, sometimes far as he flies about his territory, but you can always recognize his song because each begins with the same "a" phrase. Another lark bunting in the background begins his song differently (perhaps best heard at 10:26).


Western meadowlark, McCown's longspur, another lark bunting, cattle. There's the occasional sound of my feet, too--although I try to hold them steady, sometimes he twists me in knots as I try to keep the microphone pointed at him, and inevitably my feet move as I twist.


Photo by Wil Hershberger