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, 4:39 a.m.

Sunrise at 5:31 a.m.

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This selection begins with a loud lark bunting song, a good boom of common nighthawk (at 0:03), but by 0:11 the horned lark largely takes over (though the lark bunting continues in the background, together with a host of other horned larks and a few Brewer's sparrows).

You can just listen, but I like knowing more:

By studying sonagrams for these six minutes of this horned lark's songs, I measure that he sings four to five tinkling notes each second, and learn that he has about 200 different notes at his command. There's no set pattern in which he delivers these notes, and what comes next seems highly unpredictable.

Every once in a while he punctuates his performance with a flourish, as at the following times: 0:07, 0:33, 0:38, 1:29, 2:05, 2:09, 2:12, 2:56, 3:20, 3:23, 3:36, 4:04, 4:47, 5:05, 5:24, 5:28, 5:48, 5:57 (just to be thorough). By studying the sonagrams, I can see that he uses ten different flourishes, and given how often he repeats those known flourishes, it's my best guess that ten is about the total number of different flourishes that he has stored in his brain.

I'm happy now.


Lark bunting song, common nighthawk booms.


Photo by Wil Hershberger