Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Atlanta, Michigan

April 30, 7:30 a.m.

Sunrise at 6:25 a.m.

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Starlings accompanied us all across the continent, but in the East they always eluded my microphone, hence this example taken from Michigan.

He starts slowly, as all starlings do, with slurred whistles, these not sounding quite like the standard red-tailed hawk or eastern wood-pewee, but bracketing the downslurs are imitations of what sound like American robin or hairy or downy woodpecker (0:06 to 0:11).

From 0:15 to 0:19 is a truly special section in which this starling uses his two voice boxes to simultaneously imitate a flicker's wik-wik-wik song and an eastern phoebe's fee-bee song.

From 0:21-0:23, he offers two sandhill crane calls, followed immediately by two renditions of a hey-sweetie song of a black-capped chickadee, both the crane and chickadee mimicry occurring simultaneously with sounds produced by the other voice box.

There's far more going on in this extraordinary song, but those highlights are enough to enthrall almost anyone about this little-appreciated singer.


A vesper sparrow.


Photo by Brian L. Sullivan