Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Shenandoah Valley: Claytor Lake State Park, Dublin, Virginia

May 12, 7:00 a.m.

Sunrise at 6:15 a.m.

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The squeaky-hinge song of a common grackle. This bird sings three times in this sequence, but the entire selection is rich with calls and flights (~14 wing flaps/second) of grackles in the background. These birds creak and gurgle, squawk and grate, nothing musical in their efforts, at least by the standards of our ears.

But what fun to listen to a flock of them, a colony going about their business. Each bird has only one unique song that it can sing, readily distinguished from songs of other individuals, and the four songs from this focal bird (at 0:08, 0:13, 0:32, 0:42) are essentially identical. Listen especially to the one at 0:32--it sounds like the bird hisses loudly at first, and then with a raspy, hissy burst of energy, introduces the harmonic stack of tonal notes on the end of the song, all in half a second.


Blue jay, mourning dove, Baltimore oriole (matching songs by two birds at 0:26--could be either two males or a male and his mate).


Photo by John Van de Graaff