Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Lake Anna State Park, Spotsylvania, Virginia

May 20; 6:30 a.m.

Sunrise at 5:57 a.m.

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A red-bellied woodpecker drums away, or at least that's most likely who it was. No other woodpeckers have been heard here, and the red-bellied woodpeckers are everywhere. I count about 25 drums per second on my sonagrams--that's about right for a red-bellied woodpecker, though the rate is not all that different from some other woodpeckers, such as a hairy woodpecker or northern flicker.

He drums, yes, but it's not just one monotonous drum after another. Listen to the music, how the first three drums are about the same, how the fourth is far higher pitched, as if on a harder substrate. The sixth feels loudest and lowest.

He then pauses for a while, with the vireo and flycatcher filling the void. When he resumes, he experiments (from 1:31 to 1:50), seemingly searching for just the right resonance. Then hear how consistent he is in those drums after 1:50.

Does he play with the resonance some, trying to achieve different pitches at times, or when the drums vary is he searching for just the right place, and then he settles in there and drums consistently for as long as he pleases? What's in his head?


A red-eyed vireo drones on in the background, with a nearby great crested flycatcher calling loudly at times (first 45 seconds); in the distance, a yellow-billed cuckoo, white-breasted nuthatch, ovenbird.


Photo by John Van de Graaff