Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Yorktown National Battlefield, Yorktown, Virginia

May 16; 6:55 a.m.

Sunrise at 5:56 a.m.

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Just 20 feet overhead in a pine tree sings an American robin--how fitting, given the end of the American Revolution here in Yorktown. His mood seems unchanging over these two minutes, as he consistently sings several low carols followed by either one high hisselly (e.g., 0:03-0:07) or just the low carols by themselves without the high note (four series of low carols from 0:17 to 0:33).

In what I call "deep listening," I pick a distinctive carol and listen for it to recur throughout his performance. I like that unique carol at 0:13, for example, a whee-di-di-di sung so fast that I can barely count the four syllables; I listen for it to recur, finding it again at 0:42, 0:43, and 0:50; again at 1:24 and 1:37. Like all robins, he sings in "packages," clustering several examples of one caroled song together during a brief time period before hustling on to other caroled songs in his repertoire.

Try to listen for the double carol at 0:09, 0:17, 0:25; again at 0:38; again at 1:03, 1:06, 1:12; and then you're on your own. How many more occurrences of that double carol do you find in these two minutes?


The expected assortment in the distance, including blue jay, red-bellied woodpecker, chipping sparrow, common grackle, fish crow (prominent at 1:07), northern mockingbird, tufted titmouse. And a distant train, with whistle.


Photo by John Van de Graaff


Photo by John Van de Graaff