Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Over the Cascade Range: Sisters to McKenzie Pass, Oregon

May 25, 5:08 a.m.

Sunrise at 5:27 a.m.

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OK, I got a little carried away here, but it is my nature. I needed to understand how this Hammond's flycatcher used his songs during the dawn chorus. So I studied.

You are welcome to skip all of this, but I know there are a few people out there like me who just need to know!

Here's a description of the songs, mostly from the Birds of North America:

1) dry, sharp, 2-syllabled SE-pit delivered briskly (reminiscent of cheBEK of least flycatcher, but with accent on first syllable)

2) low-pitched, burry tsurrt, that ends with tiny, high tonal note

3) SE-luurt. A rougher version of SE-pit, more drawn out, also 2-syllabled, but ending with low, burry luurt. This Hammond's flycatcher is in dawn song, competing with another male in the background. I hear his three expected songs, this sequence beginning with SE-pit, tsurrt, SE-lurrt, SE-pit, tsurrt, SE-pit, SE-lurrt, tsurrt, SE-pit, all during the first ten seconds.

It's difficult to see a pattern when the mnemonics are used, so let me substitute A, B, C for SE-pit, tsurrt, and SE-lurrt and then see what the sequence looks like for the first minute: A B C A B A C B A B A C A B A B A C A B A C A B A C A A B A B A C A B C B A A B C A A B C A B A B A C.

What is most clear is that he never sings the same song back-to-back. The A-B and B-A sequences are most common, indicating that his favored sequences are between the two songs SE-pit and tsurrt. The SE-pit (A) songs are most common, the SE-lurrt (C) least common.

I'd need to study this same bird on another morning, or other birds as well, to see how performances differed before I'd be completely satisfied. But this is a good start to understanding the Hammond's.


Another Hammond's flycatcher, western tanager, white-breasted nuthatch, sapsucker drums, chipping sparrow, mountain chickadee, wind.


Photo by Brian L. Sullivan