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BirdNote: Sparrow Sing In Arizona Monsoon

Air Date: Week of

A Cassin’s sparrow perched on a cactus. (Photo: Bill Bouton)

The hot, dry early summer months in the desert Southwest usually give way in July to the intense rains of the monsoon season. And as BirdNote®’s Michael Stein reports, this reprieve from the searing drought gripping the Southwest can bring life back to the desert as some sparrows take the rain as a cue to begin their courtship songs.


KAISER: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Jaime Kaiser.
CURWOOD: And I’m Steve Curwood.


CURWOOD: The desert Southwest is in the midst of an extreme drought. The tinder-dry conditions have prompted rare national forest closures in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona to reduce the risk of someone sparking a devastating forest fire. And as BirdNote’s Michael Stein tells us, even some desert birds hold back their sweet songs of courtship as long as the land remains bone-dry.

Sparrows Sing in the Arizona Monsoon

[Arizona desert summer soundscape just before the thunderstorm]
STEIN: In July in Southeast Arizona, midday temperatures soar above 100 degrees. A cicada’s high-pitched whine adds an edge to the searing heat.
[Intense whine of cicadas in Arizona desert heat]
But relief is coming. [Lightning and thunder]
The monsoon season begins. Winds from the south draw tropical moisture northward into the Sonoran Desert. Moist air colliding with intense heat and mountainous terrain breeds epic thunderstorms.
[Continue thunderstorm fading to rain and aftermath]
Rainfall rejuvenates the arid land. Grass grows lush, wildflowers spring forth, gullies once dusty now rush with water.
[Rushing rain water]

A rufous-winged sparrow. (Photo: Patty Bruno)

And birds sing. [Cassin’s Sparrow song] Cassin’s Sparrows have waited for the late summer rains to begin their courtship. Now the males sing their plaintive phrases almost nonstop. [Cassin’s Sparrow song] Botteri’s Sparrows add their distinctive sputters and trills. And a Rufous-winged Sparrow voices its gentle melody. [Rufous-winged Sparrow song]
[Thunderstorm and rain]
The summer monsoon refreshes the desert world like a second spring.
[Cassin’s Sparrow song]
I'm Michael Stein.


Written by Bob Sundstrom
Desert thunder birds + high-pitched whine of insects + rainy desert thunder recorded by Gordon Hempton of QuietPlanet.com. Also, sounds from Hempton’s Essentials – thunder #7 and rain storm aftermath #15.
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Song of Cassin’s Sparrow [50231] recorded G.A. Keller; Song of Botteri’s Sparrow [112634] recorded by C.A.Marantz; Rufous-winged Sparrow [112637] recorded by C.A. Marantz.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2018 Tune In to Nature.org Narrator: Michael Stein


CURWOOD: For pictures and more about the Cassin’s Sparrow, go to our website, LOE.org.



About the Cassin’s Sparrow

About the Botteri’s Sparrow

About the Rufous-winged Sparrow

Watch a Cassin’s Sparrow exhibit “skylarking” behavior

The status of Arizona’s drought


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