Crows are common in the city but ravens are rare so I was surprised to hear a raven this week in Schenley Park. It called and circled overhead waiting for its companion to arrive. “Brrrock! Brrrock!” When the second raven caught up they flew away together.
I see ravens in town about twice a year but I only hear them make the Brrrock call. If I lived where common ravens (Corvus corax) are common, I’d hear their wide variety of sounds.
This video from Anchorage, Alaska gives you an idea of the ravens’ vocal range. He starts with Brrrock. Then he gets creative.
When you’re vulnerable to predators it pays to stick together and have a good lookout to warn you of danger.
The dusky-throated antshrike (Thamnomanes ardesiacus) doesn’t look important but he’s quick to notice the presence of hawks and falcons and has a distinctive alarm call that wakes up the forest to impending danger. It turns out that he’s key to the foraging location and cohesion of his mixed species flocks in the Amazon.
Early this year, a study by San Francisco State University temporarily removed dusky-throated antshrikes from their mixed species flocks in Peru. They discovered that within hours the flocks left their semi-open mid-story locations for denser parts of the forest. Often the flocks without an antshrike completely dissolved.
What does the alarm call sound like? Is it loud? Does it grab your attention? You bet! Here’s the sound of a worried dusky-throated antshrike:
His role in the flock works so well that the same mix of species sticks together for generations. As San Francisco State Professor Vance Vredenburg remarked, “You come back to the same habitat after 20 years, and the same flocks are using the same areas of the forest.”
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.