Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


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

May 26, 6:38 a.m.

Sunrise at 5:17 a.m.

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A Cassin's vireo. He sings at a leisurely pace, a song almost every two seconds, and I follow along, taking in the slightly burry quality to each song.

As my ears are not good enough to hear the pattern in his performance, I follow along in the sonagrams. A smile soon emerges on my face as I see what he's up to. There, in positions 2, 7, and 14, I see the same song (say, A), but then never again in this sample of 79 songs over three minutes. Another song (B) occurs at positions 3, 8, and 15, then never again; others jump out at me, one at 17, 20, and 24 (C); another at 18, 21, and 25 (D); still another at 41, 43, and 51; and so on. A given song occurs two or three times over 15 to 30 seconds, but successive occurrences are always separated by several (one to six) examples of other songs.

Notice, too, how song A is always followed by B in these examples, how C is followed by D. There's much to explore in the mind of this Cassin's vireo as he plays out his songs!

Like his close relatives the plumbeous and blue-headed vireos, he sings in what I have come to call packages, so unlike how the red-eyed vireo races through his repertoire.

About 2:40 a woodpecker flies in, giving the unmistakable klee-yer! call of the northern flicker, and then it flies off (12 wing beats/second).


Red-breasted nuthatch, mountain chickadee, chipping sparrow, western tanager, northern flicker (calling, feet on tree beginning at 2:44).


Photo by Robert Royse