Do Bushtits Sing?

(Guest post by Ted Floyd, editor of Birding magazine and bird sound enthusiast)

Fish swim, snakes slither, songbirds sing. Okay, some songbirds’ songs aren’t especially songful: The “song” of the Cactus Wren sounds like an old car starting up, for example, and the “song” of the Yellow-headed Blackbird sounds like someone being strangulated. Nevertheless, the chugging of the wren and the tormented gasping of the blackbird qualify as song, pretty much any ornithologist will tell you.

But some songbirds actually are believed not to sing. Probably the best known example in the U.S. is the Cedar Waxwing. Oh, they’re plenty noisy, flocks of them trilling and lisping and wheezing their way from tree to tree. But they don’t actually sing, it is said. I can see why. I mean, they’re so over-the-top gorgeous, with their waxy wingtips, wispy crests, and just general, well, gorgeousness. One look at a Cedar Waxwing, and it’s love at first sight—whether you’re a human or a waxwing. No need for song.

Less well known is that Bushtits are said not to sing. Like waxwings, Bushtits roam about in noisy flocks. But they’re drab, they’re tiny, they’re not as widespread in the U.S. as Cedar Waxwings, [Read more]

A Bicknell’s Thrush Critique

In 1995, in the 40th Supplement to their checklist, the American Ornithologists’ Union recognized Bicknell’s Thrush (Catharus bicknelli) as a full species, splitting it from the Gray-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus) on the basis of “differences in morphology, vocalizations, habitat preferences, and migration patterns.” In this post, I reassess the evidence for a consistent difference in flight calls between Bicknell’s and Gray-cheeked Thrushes. [Read more]

Long Calls of Gulls

Most people don’t listen to gulls much. But as I’ve paid more attention to them over the past year, I’ve realized that many species can indeed be identified by sound alone, and this fact has greatly improved my birding skills. [Read more]

Empid Mystery Solved!

Remember the mysterious two-part call of the unidentified Empid? Nacho Areta has filled in the missing piece of the puzzle. [Read more]

More on the Mystery Empid Call

A few months ago I wrote about a mysterious new “whit-beert” call that I took to be a previously undescribed sound of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Now, new information has come to light that calls my earlier conclusions into question. [Read more]

The “Tink” Call

Many species of warbler and sparrow give high, sharp “tink” notes that seem worth of their own category, separate from the “call” and the “flight call.” [Read more]

Learning Laplands

In trying to catalog Lapland Longspur calls, I ended up making a map of variation. [Read more]

The Visual Power of GIFs

Ornithologists use the term variety to describe the pattern of delivery of a bird song over time. In the field, it can take many minutes of listening to determine a bird’s pattern. Animated GIFs of spectrograms can condense all this listening into just a few seconds of looping video: [Read more]

What’s Weird About Rusty Blackbirds

Several authors have described Rusty Blackbirds as having two types of songs. However, I came to the conclusion that I was hearing three different types of songs from the species, not two. Or is that two types of song and a very song-like call? [Read more]

The Dawn Song of Brown Creeper

If you had asked me six months ago whether Brown Creeper had a distinctive dawn song, I would have told you no. But as a matter of fact, it does. [Read more]