Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Richmond National Battlefield Park, Malvern Hill, Virginia

May 6; 5:48 a.m.

Sunrise at 6:08 a.m.

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Common sense tells me that I should restrict this gnatcatcher selection to at most half a minute, but when I listen to the variety in this bird's voice, I need to let him have his say.

He begins with the monotonous repetition of a single wheeze, at a clip of well over 100 per minute, a performance for which blue-gray gnatcatchers are well known. But then, after nearly a minute (at 0:49), he changes the quality of that wheeze ever so slightly, then more strikingly at 0:53, and again at 1:12, when he alternates two different wheezes to nice effect, continuing in this mode until 1:48, and there's so much more!

Just listen to the subtle and not-so-subtle contrast in successive wheezes, how he intersperses periods of seemingly endless repetition (e.g., from about 2:40 to 3:20, and 3:47 to the end) with periods of wonderful variety.

Having heard this blue-gray gnatcatcher and his neighbor (see VA-24) in such fine form, and wondering what is on their minds during such a performance, I will always wonder why others of their kind limit themselves to what sounds like a single, repeated wheeze for what seems hours on end.


A northern cardinal, a late mourning dove song at 3:40.


Photo by John Van de Graaff