Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Willamette Valley, Beaverton, Oregon

June 16, 5:09 a.m.

Sunrise at 5:21 a.m.

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Nearly five minutes of uninterrupted house finch song. High-spirited and lively they are, with the occasional husky, hoarse notes on the end of the song. I search for patterns, wondering how he puts the performance together, and soon see in the sonagrams some of his method.

The patterns are messy, as he seems to rearrange his song components so that he has a great variety of songs. Nevertheless, I persevere, and when I look at the first three minutes, I see a pattern that looks like this:

Minute 1: A B C C B B C A B

Minute 2: A C A A A B D A B C

Minute 3: A C B D C C D C A

I see four basic patterns, but wonderful variety is introduced by delivering incomplete songs (e.g., the first song B at 0:08 is only a fragment of the next song B at 0:26), and some flourishes here and there. Minute 4, I confess, got even messier, so I stopped after three.

I'm not sure I wanted to know all of that detail, because I'm not sure just a few minutes is enough to characterize what all this house finch does. But I know enough to keep me happy until I encounter the next one.


Song sparrow, house sparrow, mallard, cedar waxwing


Photo by Robert Royse