Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Southern Illinois: Shawnee National Forest

May 24, 1:50 p.m.

Sunrise at 5:37 a.m.

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How an indigo buntings finds his voice: A young, first-year bird with splotches of brown in his plumage rambles on and on, sounding very uncertain about what he is up to. Songs lack the crisp, confident delivery of an adult, they are far longer, and they contain many song phrases that he'll eventually discard as he settles on the right song for his neighborhood. Besides discarding, he might have to learn a few phrases, too, if he's going to match the songs of the adult neighbor with whom he's sparring.

The older bird is a brilliant indigo, and I focus the microphone on him just once, at 1:51. His songs have a unique buzzy note that the young bird has not yet mastered. That buzzy note stands out because it's given only once in the song, not as a pair, and occurs early, just a half second into the song. Eventually, the first-year bird will probably incorporate that buzzy element into his song, too, so that he matches his adult neighbor.


Very quiet early afternoon. Hint of northern bobwhite, eastern towhee, chimney swift.


Photo by John Van de Graaff