Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, southeastern Oregon

June 10, 5:32 a.m.

Sunrise at 5:14 a.m.

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A European starling--just one, though one bird can certainly sound like a crowd. He's an extraordinary mimic and provides a fine census of birds in the neighborhood:

0:03 long-billed curlew

0:06-0:15 California quail: chi-CAH, chi-CAH, chi-CAH, chi-CAH chi-CAH-go, chi-CAH-go (and at 0:15, is that another starling or the real quail in the background?)

0:16, human voice?

0:17, tree swallow

0:19, Pacific tree-frog

0:20, Wilson's snipe winnow

0:23, long-billed curlew

0:26, killdeer

0:27-0:30, House sparrow calls. This is pretty special! In this three-second segment are four bursts of house sparrow calls, and simultaneously, perfectly coordinated with the sparrow calls, are four bugling sequences from sandhill cranes (you'll have to turn the gain up on your headphones to hear the cranes). This starling uses his two voices to mimic two species simultaneously . . . and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if he knew the disdain we humans have for the sparrow and the high regard for the crane, the starling purposely superimposing the two in his performance just for fun (Ok. Just kidding. I love starlings!).

0:27-0:30, Sandhill crane bugles.

0:30, American robin song phrase, perfectly imbedded into stream of starling song, or else I couldn't have known it wasn't a robin in the background

0:36, Black-crowned night heron calls?


American robin.


Photo by Brian L. Sullivan