More Than Just a Mudsucker

More Than Just a Mudsucker

What was once a bird that made just a few simple, short chips or churrs suddenly has a large and varied repertoire that includes complicated aerial acrobatics and sounds as varied as low-pitched hooting to amazingly insect-like twittering. The first time I stood out on the tundra in Alaska I was blown away by everything I was seeing and hearing, and I’ve never looked at shorebirds the same way again.

A Bicknell’s Thrush Critique

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.

The Seven Basic Tone Qualities

The Seven Basic Tone Qualities

Tone quality is the distinctive voice of a sound — the thing that allows you to tell the difference between a violin and a trumpet when they’re both playing the same note. It comes in very handy when identifying birds by sound, but people have tended to differ in their notions of how to describe it. Today we’ll introduce basic tone quality vocabulary.

The Four Basic Song Patterns

The Four Basic Song Patterns

In the last post, I covered the five basic pitch patterns, introducing some vocabulary to help distinguish between different types of individual notes. Today I’m going to introduce some vocabulary to help distinguish between different types of groups of notes — that is, different types of songs.

The Five Basic Pitch Patterns

The Five Basic Pitch Patterns

The “How to Read Spectrograms” section of this blog is in desperate need of an upgrade, so today I’m starting a series of posts to help people describe and visualize sounds as simply and clearly as possible. Our first topic: pitch patterns.