Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Sweetwater River, Split Rock, near Jeffrey City, Wyoming

June 11, 5:57 a.m.

Sunrise at 5:33 a.m.

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A quarter of an hour in a marsh beside the Sweetwater River near Jeffrey City, Wyoming. With a focus on a Virginia rail (first heard at 0:15), he sings kick kick ki-dick ki-dick ki-di-dick ki-di-dick ki-di-dick! throughout. He must be unpaired, as no paired male would continue calling like this for such long periods during early morning. How curious, too, that he adds that extra syllable. The proper mnemonic for these birds is ki-dick, but this bird adds an extra, to end his "song" with ki-di-dick. With no other Virginia rails to listen to here, I don't know if this is his unique spin on the classic ki-dick or whether this trisyllabic call is typical of other Virginia rails in this area, too.

The rail is not alone, as many other birds in this river bottom sound off as well, though none with the persistence of the rail. I especially enjoy listening to the red-winged blackbirds; a female off to the right calls repeatedly as she commutes to and from her nest. A male sings on occasion, the female usually responding immediately. Other birds are more distant, but all add to the richness of this soundscape.


Many birds can be heard over this quarter hour: Mourning dove, yellow warbler, yellow-breasted chat, female red-winged blackbird calls, American crow, black-headed grosbeak, all in first 30 seconds. After that, chiming in are common yellowthroat, male red-winged blackbird with song and calls and female call responses, Sora (1:28; 10:04 especially nice), western meadowlark, American goldfinch, black-billed magpie, brown-headed cowbird.


Photo by John Van de Graaff