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Bird Songs

Great Horned Owls Courting

Great Horned Owls are staking out territories and beginning courtship rituals in northern New England. Their “songs” are typically given with their beak closed, as they lean forward and cock their tail up (see photo). When calling, their white throat feathers are pronounced as their throat swells.

The hooting of a Great Horned Owl can be compared to the sound of a distant foghorn – it is soft, and somewhat subdued, with no strong accent on any one hoot. Pairs often synchronize their deep sonorous territorial songs, a custom which is referred to as “duetting.” The higher-pitched female calls a six or seven-note song and the male responds with a deeper five-note song during or within a few seconds after the female’s song.  The chances of hearing a Great Horned Owl are somewhat greater after midnight than before. To hear Great Horned Owl territorial calls and duetting go to https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Horned_Owl/sounds. (Thanks to Vermont Institute of Natural Science for photo op.)

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1-19-16  great horned owl calling 289


Last of the Canada Warblers Heading South

9-23 Canada warbler IMG_7397The Canada Warbler (or “necklaced warbler” – the male’s “necklace” is very pronounced in spring plumage) is one of the last warblers to arrive on its breeding grounds in the spring, and one of the first to depart. The last of members of this species are now leaving the cool, moist forests of boreal Canada and the Northeast for northern South America – a particularly long migration for a New World, or wood-warbler. Canada Warblers pass through rapidly, over about a three-week period, which is soon coming to an end. During migration, these warblers are known to sing frequently, and often continue singing on their wintering grounds. Populations of Canada Warblers have declined steadily over the past 30 years, likely in response to forest succession and loss of forested wetlands on their breeding grounds. (photo: fall female or 1st year male Canada Warbler — plumage is indistinguishable. Thanks to George Clark for i.d. confirmation.)

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Hermit Thrushes Still Singing

8-7-15  hermit thrush 101The woods have become relatively quiet in the last few weeks. A majority of songbirds have mated and nested, so there is no need to reinforce pair-bonding with song. However, some late nesters, including the Hermit Thrush, are still on eggs and the males are still singing.

The Hermit Thrush makes up for its rather drab appearance with its melodious, haunting, flute-like song. The Hermit Thrush’s song is similar to that of its close relative, the Wood Thrush, but it starts with a single, clear note which the Wood Thrush’s song lacks. The Hermit Thrush doesn’t sing during migration or on its wintering grounds, so we are now privilege to its last lyrical songs of the year. To hear a recording, go to http://langelliott.com/mary-holland/hermit_thrush_by_Ted_Mack_Adirondacks_1994.mp3. (Sound recording © Lang Elliott – langelliott.com & miracleofnature.org)

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Male Blackburnian Warblers Singing

blackburnian warbler 473Male Blackburnian Warblers are relatively easy to identify by sight. They are the only North American warbler with an orange throat, and their intense orange breeding plumage is unmistakable. However, because they often forage for spiders and insects high in the canopy where they are hidden from sight, Blackburnians are often located by ear. Their singing peaks soon after they arrive on their breeding grounds. To hear the thin, high-pitched song unmated males sing, as well as mated males when they are near the females, go to http://langelliott.com/mary-holland/BLBUWA_5_songs_with_chips_MB.mp3. (Sound recording © Lang Elliott – langelliott.com & miracleofnature.org)

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Northern Waterthrushes Singing

northern waterthrush 276If it is not singing, the Northern Waterthrush, a large wood warbler and not a thrush, can be recognized by its bobbing body and wagging tail. However, its loud, ringing song is the most diagnostic characteristic of this species, and allows one to distinguish it from its look-alike relative, the Louisiana Waterthrush. The primary song of the Northern Waterthrush has three parts, which are said to sound like a vigorous, rapid “sweet sweet swee wee wee chew chew chew chew.”

The Northern Waterthrush also has a flight song which is given on its breeding ground, typically in the evening. This song usually starts with loud, sharp, chips of increasing frequency, delivered from the ground or a low perch. The bird then flies upward through and above the canopy, singing snatches of primary song but quicker and longer, framed in a hurried jumble of half-call/half-song notes.

To hear the primary song of the Northern Waterthrush, go to http://langelliott.com/mary-holland/northern_waterthrush_1_NY.mp3. (Sound recording © Lang Elliott – langelliott.com & miracleofnature.org)

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Mourning Doves Calling

3-19-15 -mourning dove IMG_2091The mournful lament of the male mourning dove is often one of the first songs heard in the early spring. The frequency of this call builds to a peak from mid-May to mid-June. As in many other pigeons and doves, the Mourning Dove’s main call, or “perch coo” (coo-oo, OO, OO, OO) is an advertising call, sung in order to attract a mate. Unmated males often establish perches within their territory from which they repeatedly sing.

A shorter nest call is used by a paired male to attract his mate to a potential nest site. The male then gathers nesting material and presents it to the female while standing on her back. While she constructs the nest, he continues to use the nest call to maintain a bond with his mate. Once the nest is built, this call diminishes. You can hear Mourning Dove calls at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/mourning_dove/sounds, although to my ear, it’s hard to distinguish the perch call from the nest call in these recordings.

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Warbling Vireo Warbles on Nest

6-4-14 warbling vireo on nest 226 As a rule, male birds do not sing near their nest. When they approach their nest, whether to take their turn incubating eggs, brooding nestlings or delivering food, they are apt to be silent, or sing much more softly than usual, so as to avoid bringing attention to the nest. There are exceptions to this rule, however – male Chipping Sparrows, House Wrens, Common Yellowthroats, Hermit Thrushes, Black-billed Cuckoos, Scarlet Tanagers, Orchard Orioles and American Goldfinches have been heard singing not just near their nest, but while sitting on it! Warbling Vireos are by far the most persistent nest singers. When the male Warbling Vireo is incubating, he sings at all times of the day, as many as 20 bursts of song during one spell on the nest. Listening for the Warbling Vireo’s song and locating the songster can often lead you to its nest. One wonders what function the song has that makes it worth drawing this kind of attention to the nest.

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