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BirdNote: Vocabularies of Birdsong

Air Date: Week of

Sage Thrasher (Photo: © Tom Benson)

Around the world at any given time, a bird is singing, and as BirdNote’s Mary McCann reports, though their songs all differ in type and length, they mostly have the same intention, laying claim to territory and mates.


CURWOOD: One of the great pleasures of spring is the birdsong that’s suddenly all around us from before dawn till way beyond dusk. And the tunes these songsters create are as varied as they are, as Mary McCann explains in today’s BirdNote®.

Voices & Vocabularies: Songs Long and Short

MCCANN: Bird songs come in many shapes and sizes. When a Sage Thrasher, perched atop a clump of sagebrush, tips its head back to sing, the notes rush forth.

[Sage Thrasher song]

What you just heard is a mere snippet. Sage Thrashers often sing non-stop for at least two minutes, and can go on for more than twenty. In stark comparison, a Brewer’s Blackbird, singing to the world from atop a fence post, sounds brusque.
[Brewer’s Blackbird song]
One full song from a Brewer’s Blackbird lasts barely a second.

[Brewer’s Blackbird song]

Brewer’s Blackbird (Photo: © Ken Schneider)

Amazingly, a Henslow’s Sparrow values brevity even more.

[Henslow’s Sparrow song]

That was it. In case you missed it…here it is again.

[Henslow’s Sparrow song]

But whether long-drawn-out or short-and-sweet, bird songs are all about the same things: territory and breeding. Claiming a space and attracting a mate. Once those are sorted out, further singing by the male is all about keeping his territory intact.

[Sage Thrasher song]

As for the Sage Thrasher? He’s still going strong...

[Sage Thrasher song]

I’m Mary McCann.

Henslow’s Sparrow (Photo: © Nancy Magnusson)


Written by Bob Sundstrom
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Sage Thrasher 175693 recorded by G F Budney; Brewer's Blackbird [188802] recorded by Bob McGuire; Henslow's Sparrow [188892] recorded by Randolph S Little.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org May 2015 Narrator: Mary McCann

Brewer’s Blackbird - Kenneth Cole Schneider https://www.flickr.com/photos/zonotrichia/5548989126

Henslow’s Sparrow - Nancy Magnusson https://www.flickr.com/photos/34312269@N04/7345570276

Sage Thrasher - Tom Benson https://www.flickr.com/photos/40928097@N07/12739808474


CURWOOD: You can find pictures and more at our website, LOE dot org



Learn more about these birdsongs and their species on BirdNote


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