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 27, 5:16 a.m.

Sunrise at 5:26 a.m.

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Four extraordinary song sequences from a Brewer's sparrow, ten minutes before sunrise (his neighbor sings in CO-216).

From where does one draw the superlatives to describe something like this? His daytime song is usually a simple two-parted trill, but at dawn he transforms himself into the maestro the likes of which one would never expect. He sputters and stutters with his high trills, then plunges to a bewildering variety of canary-like trills on a much lower frequency. And then he's back up again to the high trills, then down, but how long he stays up or down is unpredictable, and one wonders how, given all of his options, he chooses what to do next.

Some day, I have promised myself, I will study these songs carefully, to determine how the male pieces together these long sequences, and also to determine how similar the songs of two neighbors are. Do they learn these fantastic songs from each other, or do they improvise, making much of them up? I'd love to know.

Listening to the songs of the Brewer's sparrow at dawn (CO-215, CO-216) and througout the day (ID-219, ID-220), one can hardly believe they're the same species.


Lark bunting, western meadowlark, mourning dove, common nighthawk (diving VROOM at 0:32; but his peent notes are too distant to hear).


Photo by Wil Hershberger