Spectrum of Birdsong | New Hampshire Public Radio

Spectrum of Birdsong

May 18, 2012

Mid-May is like rush hour in the bird world. Migrants have returned for the nesting season and the air is full of birdsong. As you might guess, birdsong is as varied as birds themselves. In fact, birdsong is defined generously to include any and all sounds they make with territorial or courtship intentions. Let's start with a traditional vocalization and then branch out.  

One of the most common and widespread backyard songsters is well named: The song sparrow. The male starts early and will sing all day especially if he hasn't been successful in attracting a mate. One male studied sang from dawn to dusk; fifteen hours! Two-thousand three-hundred and five songs performed in the day. Here's that song, recognized by a few repeated introductory notes followed by quite a mix.

And now for something completely different. The male ruffed grouse's "song" is not vocal but it does involve the movement of air as wings beat against body to produce a drumming sound. Some fifty wing beats speeding up towards the end.

I'll end with perhaps the most original songster, the American bittern, a heron that breeds in freshwater wetlands.  Again air plays a role but this time it's gulped in and expelled in a very impressive series of avian belches. There is no sound quite like a male bittern’s, broadcast most often in the dim light of dawn and dusk.