Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Mammoth Cave National Park, western Kentucky

June 1, 7:12 a.m.

Sunrise at 6:23 a.m.

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A scarlet tanager in daytime song, without the dawn chip-burrs, but how slowly he delivers the phrases within each song. I measure the pace within five songs, take the middle value, and calculate 1.5 phrases per second, but he varies from 1.3 to 1.6. In the background is a second scarlet tanager who delivers the phrases far faster, about 2.5 phrases per second. Back in Virginia (VA-38), during the dawn chorus a male was delivering these song phrases at 1.6 per second. How fascinating to hear the different paces and to wonder what it all signifies for the tanagers.

This male varies his songs in much the same way that other scarlet tanagers do. The first four songs here are essentially identical, with five song phrases (though the third song lacks the fifth phrase); in song 5 the fifth phrase is different, and by the time he delivers his seventh song, only the first two phrases are the same as in the previous songs. Typically, a given scarlet tanager begins all of his songs with the same two phrases, and then offers some variety after that.


Ovenbird, eastern wood-pewee, a second scarlet tanager singing faster paced songs, mourning dove, Kentucky warbler, eastern towhee.


Photo by Wil Hershberger