Blackpoll Warblers have among the highest pitched of all bird songs in North America. Most anyone who lives in the east (and can still hear it) should hear the loud “see-see-see-see-see…” of a Blackpoll at some point during spring migration. Listen to enough of them and you will doubtless notice a great deal of variation in the speed and particular note characteristic of the song.
However, there isn’t a whole lot of specific information in the field guides on the variability of Blackpoll Warbler songs. BNA does says of the speed: “Rate varies from 5 to 12 notes/s (Dunn and Garrett 1997), and frequency averages 8,900 hz (range 8,050–10,225 hz; Brand 1938; Fig. 3)” But it also says “No information on geographic variation”, and there is little other information on variation in Blackpoll Warbler song.
On my first trip to northern Coos County, New Hampshire (in 2008), I heard a very high pitched, very fast trill that I did not recognize. Upon tracking it down I was rather surprised to see it was a singing Blackpoll Warbler. I kept an ear out the rest of that day and found a half dozen or so Blackpoll Warblers, all singing that song. When I counted up how many notes per second the song contained I found that it was 19, well over the top end of the range mentioned in BNA. Upon mentioning this weird song type to a friend of mine from New Hampshire (Ben Griffith) he said that birders in the state were aware of this local dialect, and that all the birds up around Pittsburg, NH, sang like this, and none of the birds elsewhere in the state did.
This rather piqued my interest, so I’ve been keeping an ear out for singing Blackpolls ever since.
From what I’ve been able to find, my friend in NH is right about the very limited range of the super-fast song type. A few miles to the south, and even closer to the east, birds sing more normally paced songs (from Jefferson Notch, NH, and Saddleback Mt., ME, respectively). I have also heard many migrant Blackpolls at a number of locations from Ohio to Maine, and none of them sang fast songs like the NH birds.
Interestingly, a migrant bird recorded in E MA by Ian Davies (recording below) has a fast pitched song like the Coos birds. While it’s impossible to say for sure that this bird is from the Northern NH population, I would bet money that it is – E MA is directly south of these birds.
So if any of you hear Blackpoll Warblers regularly, or are heading to where you might, keep an ear out and let me know how fast they are singing…I’d be interested to know!