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Birdsong, Translated

With birds tuning up for the breeding season ahead, here are some memory tricks to help you recognize a few of the more common songs.

Robins can be heard in just about all habitats across the state and the nation. Their whistled song is often translated as, "Cheer-up. Cheerily. Cheerio."

American Robin.

Another song easy to "translate" is the flight song of goldfinches. Someone somewhere interpreted it as, "Potato chip! Potato chip!"    

American Goldfinch.

Near wet, shrubby thickets, you'll likely hear the territorial song of a very energetic warbler, the common yellowthroat. Note the insistent, circular tempo.

Common Yellowthroat.

The translation in most field guides is "witchedy, witchedy, witch," but if you take into account the male's black mask and bandit-like appearance, you may also hear: "Give me your money, your money, your money."

Lastly, a more challenging song. A male song sparrow without a mate sings this rapid, buzzy chirp from dawn to dusk, well over a thousand times.

Song Sparrow. Courtesy of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

See if this old-time interpretation helps make sense of the jumble: "Maids, maids, maids, put on the tea-kettle, ettle, ettle."

Let us know what birds you've been hearing and seeing in your backyard. Post in the comments below or add your photos to the NHPR Flickr page.

Chris Martin has worked for New Hampshire Audubon for over 31 years as a Conservation Biologist, specializing in birds of prey such as Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Peregrine Falcons.

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