What Gulls Say

Gull enthusiasts are weird. They hang out at landfills. They go to the beach when it’s freezing cold, or just to see what’s in the parking lot. They’ll stare at a single bird for hours, puzzling over insanely minute details. When it comes to identifying a mystery gull, they look at everything; they ignore nothing. Except vocalizations. [Read more]

The Left-handed Blackbird

What bird species always twists its head to the left when singing, never to the right? [Read more]

The “Two-part Calls” of Empidonax

As far as I know, three species of Empids give these calls. In one species, the two-part call is familiar enough to be mentioned in field guides, at least. The two-part call of the second species is described only in the scientific literature. And that of the third is, as far as I know, being described in this blog post for the first time. [Read more]

The “Meaningless” Calls of Red-winged Blackbirds

It’s tempting to think of bird sounds as though they were words and phrases, as though it were always the form of the sound that encoded specific messages to the listener. But that’s not how Red-winged Blackbirds work. [Read more]

A Canyon Wren Mystery

It’s a commonly held conception that only male birds sing. But the Canyon Wren is an exception. [Read more]

A Dove Detective Story

It’s difficult to take your camera to a local park and capture a bird plumage or behavior that has never before been photographed. But it’s about twenty times easier to make an audio recording of a call or behavior that has never before been audio recorded. And finding out what kind of sound you’ve recorded takes real detective work. [Read more]

The Gargling Chickadees

All chickadee species give “chick-a-dee” calls, but only three of them — Black-capped, Carolina, and Mountain — have whistled songs. An often-overlooked chickadee vocalization called the gargle may actually fulfill more of the traditional “song” functions than the whistled songs. [Read more]

Rufous-collared Origins

On May 8th, 2011, Andrew Davis and Tim Davis found a Rufous-collared Sparrow, a Central and South American species, in Georgetown, Colorado. When I heard reports that the Georgetown sparrow was singing loudly and often, I immediately wondered whether it might be possible to use its song dialects to pinpoint its birthplace. [Read more]

Subsong vs. Whisper Song

Both subsongs and whisper songs are fascinating, but they are not the same thing. Let’s look at the similarities and differences. [Read more]

A Robin’s Many Songs

The American Robin may be the most familiar bird in North America, but for all its abundance and approachability, it remains in some ways inscrutable. [Read more]