Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Eastern Oregon: Prairie City, Malheur National Forest, Picture Gorge

June 13, 4:41 a.m.

Sunrise at 5:09 a.m.

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Pit-er-ick . . . pit-er-ick . . . followed by three song phrases delivered at glacial pace of 1.1 phrases/second . . . pit-er-ick . . . pit-er-ick . . . three more song phrases, at 1.2/second . . . pit-er-ick . . . pit-er-ick . . . three song phrases at 1.2/second . . . and so it goes for all six minutes, one or two pit-er-ick calls between several song phrases, delivered at the leisurely pace of 1.0 to 1.4 phrases/second. It's classic dawn singing by the western tanager, the overall style so similar to that of the scarlet tanager of the East.

Curious about the patterns of use for his song phrases, I print out the first minute of his performance and identify the phrases: A B C, A D E, A D F, A E C, A D E G, A D C E, A B E, A, A B C E, with pit-er-ick calls between the sequences. It's a pattern I know well, as it's essentially identical to what the scarlet tanager does. He has a limited repertoire of song phrases (I counted seven), and he favors phrase A, beginning all sequences with it, and during the day he'll likely begin each song with that phrase as well.


American robin, hermit thrush, chipping sparrow, dusky flycatcher, lazuli bunting, white-crowned sparrow


Photo by John Van de Graaff