Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, Walden, Colorado

June 19, 4:49 a.m.

Sunrise at 5:33 a.m.

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A good 50 minutes before sunrise, there's no great rush of dawn song from these blackbirds, just the usual, it seems.

Like all yellow-headed blackbirds, this male has two different songs. One is the short, standard song (A, as at 0:04), kak-kak-ka-kaaow, the song itself about a second and a half.

The second song is a long drawn-out affair that begins with a couple of soft, low, tonal notes, followed by an extended whine of nearly two seconds (fa-fa-faaaaaaooooowwwwwww; song B, as at 0:51). Curiously, each male swings his neck to the left when he delivers this song. Yes, absolutely curious, but why he contorts himself so, and always seemingly to the left, is a puzzle. Perhaps it somehow distorts the voice boxes within and he's thereby enabled to produce such an odd sound?

The sequence here is A A B A A B B A A A A B B, ending with two drawn-out songs. Birds in the background offer similar A songs (e.g., 0:40) and B songs (the whine at 1:10).


Sora, American coot, marsh wren, and assorted marsh birds, including a variety of ducks.


Photo by John Van de Graaff