Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Prairie State Park, Mindenmines, Missouri

June 2, 5:53 a.m.

Sunrise at 5:58 a.m.

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Two yellow-breasted chats, one in the foreground, one more distant. It's intriguing that each male stays on his unique package of songs throughout this three minutes and 20 seconds, each one working over his own particular subset of songs that he has mastered. For the background chat, the very first sound in this selection is the same as his songs at 2:45 and 3:06. For the foreground chat, listen to the single harsh zwack at 0:09 and hear it again in a series at 0:17, as singles at 0:35, 0:43, 1:01, and repeatedly all the way through to the triple at 2:53.

I would bet that some gamesmanship is involved in who switches first to a new series of sounds, and when. Though they don't match each others' songs, given that each may have a unique repertoire, they can still interact in other ways, by which particular songs they choose to sing at the same time, whether they overlap each others' efforts, when they switch to a new series of songs. Some day I'll park myself between two chats and listen through the night and into the dawn to try to understand them better.


A second yellow-breasted chat, northern cardinal, dickcissel, Bell's vireo; the low rumble of a distant train and its whistle; a babbling brook.


Photo by John Van de Graaff