Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


On the Atlantic shore: Grandview Nature Preserve, Hampton, Virginia

May 16, 8:55 a.m.

Sunrise at 5:56 a.m.

Download the Recording

Here's a fine test for your ears, trying to hear the difference between two different songs from this male.

For 10 songs, through 0:54, it seems that this seaside sparrow knows only one song. Over and over, feel the rhythm, how he begins with two low cut cut notes, followed by some intensely tonal notes (ZHE) then a lower buzzy note (aah), before he ends with a raspy buzz (ZAAAAAAHHH). Put it all together and it sounds something like cucut ZHEahhZAAAAAAHHHH.

Then, beginning at 0:57 and continuing for 13 songs, the introductory notes of the song are subtly different, as this male switches to another of the three or four different songs in his repertoire. The differences in songs are subtle, but the birds clearly hear them, as neighbors learn the details of these songs from each other; these patterns of song learning lead to local song dialects in seaside sparrow songs.


Distant boat-tailed grackle; laughing gulls (nice laugh at very end), willet; two nice clapper (king?) rail duets (1:05). And, perhaps most importantly, two other seaside sparrows singing in the distance.


Photo by John Van de Graaff