Kestrel's Musings

Rambles and explorations from this perspective.

What is in a birdsong?

Stop what you are doing! What does it mean when a House Wren, 5 House Finches and 2 Oak Titmice are squawking together in the same small tree while White-breasted Nuthatches are calling repeatedly from a near by tree? Careful observation reveals that it means a large Garter snake is trying to cross the yard under the tree. He/she was frozen in place with head lifted about 4-5 inches off the ground directly under the 2 meter tall tree. The birds were having none of it, especially the House Wren who was the loudest and seemed to be leading the group by getting closest down the trunk of the tree. It was unclear whether because of me or the birds, but as I was moving very slowly towards the ruckus with my camera hoping to capture something, the snake retreated.

Birds make many noises. Some that our auditory abilities cannot capture. A bird sound I do not recognize right away will get me outside fast. I began working on learning this bird’s song last fall when I heard him and had no idea who he was. He has been nothing but trouble since.

(Ignore the airplane engines trying to ruin my moment while listening. Don’t even get me started on Soundscape violations!)

All About Birds doesn’t even have a song example but rather simply states, “Songs vary from one geographical area to another, and a single male may possess a repertoire of 9 to 22 distinct songs.” No wonder it is taking me time to sort out his song and recognize when it is him singing outside my door. My first impression was a whacked out Spotted Towhee song until I saw him. (

I have heard many examples of birds with different versions of their song. Once on a trail near White Wolf in Yosemite National Park I observed a Dark-eyed Oregon Junco singing a 3 parted tune. Typically they sing one trill ( Many years ago while nest searching for a summer in Northern Idaho I was marveling at a Song Sparrow singing away. He looked like a Song Sparrow. Sang like a Song Sparrow. Yet, I still did not quite recognize the tune. He had a northern accent.

As I learn to sort out the parts of a Bewick’s Wren’s song that says to me he is a Bewick’s Wren, I am also learning to pay attention to pitch and syntax. That little bit that sounded like a Spotted Towhee was not preceded or followed by sounds a Spotted Towhee would typically make. I will try and recognize that next time.  I am now wondering if this Bewick’s Wren makes a different song now that he is done nesting compared to the song I was learning last fall?  When I figure it out, I’ll let you know!


Author: Kestrel

Kestrel identifies as a naturalist, Yosemite Interpreter, guide, outdoor educator, science teacher, friend, music lover, auntie extraordinaire, adventurer for birds, and fellow sojourner on this big blue marble. Out there she strives to live life most generously and satisfyingly. Here she endeavors to share what rolls around the heart and grey matter...

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