Listening to a Continent Sing

the companion website to the book by Donald Kroodsma


Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

June 1, 6:37 a.m.

Sunrise at 5:45 a.m.

Download the Recording

A western tanager, over and over he calls, pit-er-ick, a dry, quarter-second, rising rattle; finally, after two and a half minutes, he offers three song phrases. We think these tanagers call like this when they're perturbed in some way, though what it is that he's fussing about is unclear.

Pit-er-ick. One finds a mnemonic and then tends to be done with it. Yes, he's calling, pit-er-ick. But step beyond that and listen to how he enunciates this simple call time after time. Maybe the first call in this selection is pit-er-ick, but the second call is more like pit-er-eek, the last syllable higher and less harsh. The third call also ends with a tonal note, but it is lower than that of the second call. Listen carefully to determine if you can hear the details. I confess--I downloaded the recording into Raven software, where I could slow the songs down and hear the details better.

There's a lot going on in these simple calls, and I wish I knew what was on the mind of this tanager as he varied his calls in this way. Perhaps nothing was on his mind, I realize is one possibility, but when I see variation like this, I tend to think the bird knows what he is doing and has a reason for it all.


Ruby-crowned kinglet, yellow warbler, red-breasted nuthatch, chipping sparrow (note long song at 1:38) , yellow-rumped warbler, American robin, a warbling vireo call?


Photo by Robert Royse