Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Prairie State Park, Mindenmines, Missouri

June 2, 8:44 P.M.

Sunset at 8:35 p.m.

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In the gathering twilight of early evening, a grasshopper sparrow gives both of his song forms back-to-back. The song for which he is best known is dominated by a second-and-a-half buzzy zzzzzzeeeeeeeeeeee, and barely audible are the four tiny notes that introduce it all and the one tiny note at the end. My best shot at a mnemonic for this two-second song is Tip-tup-te-tup- zzzzzzzzzeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-tup.

Those tiny notes are a mere 1/100th of a second or less in duration!

He then immediately launches into his jumbled song, with dozens of tiny notes sprayed out over a second and a half. Many are less than 1/100th of a second, a couple a whopping 3/100th of a second in duration, and all reach up to a high frequency of 10,000 Hz.

Listen to these two songs at one quarter speed and you begin to hear the details that the birds themselves hear:

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He knows what he's doing with these songs, as each is precisely repeated from one time to the next. What he means to say, well, I'm sure he knows, but how and why he uses these two songs remains a bit of a puzzle to us humans.


Indigo bunting, frogs.


Photo by Wil Hershberger