We don’t think of swallows as songbirds but indeed they do sing. Our largest swallow, the purple martin (Progne subis), has a unique sound that carries far. With practice, you can recognize their voices even when you can’t see them.
Purple martins nest communally so the best place to learn their song is near a purple martin colony.
In early summer near their nests, you’ll hear songs, creaky rattles and the sound of begging juveniles. (Purple martins vocalizing near their nest, including begging calls of young, from Xeno Canto XC139568 by Russ Wigh)
The throaty, gurgling chirps are unique to purple martins. When you hear it overhead, look for a nearby colony and go see the swallows sing.
In his preferred habitat the wren is hard to see. Mostly black and brown, his white throat looks like a splash of sunlight from below.
But he’s easy to hear. When he really gets going he doesn’t sound like a water drop at all. This long melodious song (xeno-canto XC15653) was recorded by Don Jones on Semaphore Hill Road, the road to Canopy Tower.
The “water drop” is just a tiny snatch of song.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals. recordings downloaded from Xeno Canto; links provided to the originals)
What happens when you put a very smart parrot in the room with a voice-activated virtual assistant?
The owners of an African grey parrot named Petra also own an Amazon Echo, the tall black cylinder that activates a blue light when it hears the word “Alexa.” Say “Alexa” and the computer carries out your command.
Here are three short clips of Petra with Alexa. Above, “All lights on.”
What is that hooting? Is it an owl calling in the middle of the day?
In the spring, male mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) perch high, puff their throats and make the deepest loudest sound possible for a bird so small. The first rising note is lost in the distance, but the last two or three low notes carry far.
Last week at Moraine State Park I was momentarily transfixed when I heard “Hoooo Hoooo” across the valley. When I paused to listen I realized that the cadence didn’t match any local owl. Not the great horned owl. Not the barred owl. I heard only two notes but they were spaced like the mourning dove’s.
Listen as a mourning dove sings one rising note, then 3 or 2 low notes. Imagine you can hear only the last two notes. (Xeno-canto recording XC153652 by Paul Marvin at Moosehead NWR, Maine)
Now compare it to these two owls:
GREAT HORNED OWL recording by Ted Floyd, Boulder, CO at Xeno-canto XC344952
BARRED OWL recording by Tim Spahr, Ithaca, NY at Xeno-canto XC25239
On Thursday afternoon, a flock of blue jays called and sang in the rain outside my window. They were so musical that I recorded them.
In the clip below you can hear rain falling and some harsh “jeer” calls, but notice the musical “tweedle” songs. Those are blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) performing the pumphandle call as they bob on the perch. These are faint; turn up your speakers.
I’m sure you’ve seen starlings fly away to avoid a predator. Have you heard their warning signal?
Over the years I’ve noticed that European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) make a spitting sound just before they flee. Sometimes only one or two birds call the alarm, a sharp note repeated three or more times. It sounds like this.
When I look for the reason they’re making the sound, I always see a hawk in the air. I’ve learned to look for a raptor when I hear that sound.
The starlings must be saying, “Danger From The Air!”
(photo of starling flock by Pat Gaines on Flickr; click on the image to see the original. Recording of common starling (Sturnus vulgaris) by Toon Jansen at xeno-canto #XC393749)
Birds use alarm calls to warn each other of danger but pigeons are generally silent. What sound could a pigeon make to signal danger? The crested pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) of Australia uses his 8th feather.
Crested pigeons make a whistling sound when they fly — a high note on the down stroke, a low note going up. Researchers found out that the eighth primary feather is the source of the high note and that the speed of the low-high modulation provides the warning.
When a bird flaps slowly the whistle repeats slowly, so other pigeons decide the bird is not afraid. When the sound repeats rapidly it sounds like the pigeon is fleeing, so the other birds do, too.
This fall migrating mockingbirds came back to town to spend the winter.
Northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) were a southern species that now nest as far north as southern Canada. In autumn the birds move south and some decide that Pittsburgh is as far as they need to go. New arrivals immediately set up territory and warn off other mockingbirds by singing, “Mine, Mine, Mine.”
The songs are pretty, and pretty confusing because mockingbirds mimic other species. For instance, this Xeno Canto recording by Joshua Stevenson has an American robin sound at 0:11. No it’s not a robin.
When I walk around my neighborhood this month I hear 15 different songs but they come from only two locations. Two mockingbirds are “dueling” from opposite sides of Magee Field, the only birds singing in November.