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I spent yesterday morning recording Pine Siskins in Whitnall Park, Hales Corner, WI. They were extremely vocal and I managed to make some good recordings of group singing. Recording an isolated individual singing, so that you could really hear the song components, proved to be tricky, but eventually I did find one off by itself who briefly sang into my microphone.
Two summers ago David Sibley posted an article on his excellent blog about Vocal copying in Pine Siskins. He writes about the under reported phenomenon of Pine Siskin mimicry, and one of the species mentioned as being imitated is Dark-eyed Junco, specifically the “tew-tew-tew” call. Having read the article, I was keeping an eye and ear open for examples of mimicry when I replayed my recordings, and as luck would have it, I did capture an imitation of the Dark-eyed Junco “tew-tew-tew” at the very end of this brief song. There may be other imitations in here as well, so please leave a comment if you think you can detect any.
The “normal” wintering range of Townsend’s Solitaire only extends as far east as eastern Nebraska. However, they are regularly found further east where the food supply is suitable. One such place is Devil’s Lake State Park in Sauk County, WI. The abundant supply of Eastern Red Cedar and the rocky terrain have attracted solitaires almost yearly since they were first reported in 1980.
I visited on Nov. 27, 2010 and obtained recordings of three of the solitaire’s vocalizations.
The whistle call is the most frequently given call. It is a regular series of short clear ringing whistles.
Townsend's Solitaire Whistle Call
Townsend’s Solitaires are territorial on their wintering grounds, and often sing, sometimes full song but sometimes only a subdued “whisper song” version.
Here is an example of the “whisper song”.
Townsend's Solitaire Song
There is a less commonly heard call that BNA Online refers to as the “waa” call, and which it says is only given on the wintering grounds “in context of interspecific territoriality”. That is exactly the context that I heard it in, as the bird was chasing cedar waxwings out of its cedar tree at the time I made this recording.
Townsend's Solitaire Scolding Calls
Many Tyranni have special “Dawn” or “Twilight” songs. Often these are more complex than their normal song vocalizations. The Acadian Flycatcher, for example, increases the rate at which it utters it typical song and intersperses a variety of chips and metallic notes during its dawn performance. The Eastern Wood-Pewee also increases its rate of singing and introduces a new phrase in addition to its usual “pee-ah-wee” and “peeeoooo”.
On the morning of June 7, 2010, in the predawn hour, I arrived at the boat landing in Wyalusing State Park, Wisconsin, with the aim of recording the songs of Prothonotary, Kentucky, and Yellow-throated Warblers (all specialties of the park). As I got my bearings and starting listening for my target birds, I heard a particularly vociferous Eastern Phoebe performing an extended bout of Dawn Song. I took advantage of the opportunity and stopped to record a portion of it. At the time I did not notice anything unusual about the performance, other than it did seem a little bit more enthusiastic than I was used to hearing. However, when listening to the recording and viewing the sonogram, I noticed something unusual. Normally Eastern Phoebes will alternate their two song phrases, (1) fee-bee and (2) fee-b-be-bee. These are also sometimes designated as RR1 and Rr2. This bird, however, seems to be introducing a third phrase, or at the very least, a well-defined variant of RR1.
RR1 variant (RR1-v). Notice the extra note at the end.
In the recording sample below, the pattern is: Rr2, RR1-v, Rr2, RR1-v, Rr2, RR1, Rr2, RR1-v, Rr2, RR1, Rr2, RR1, Rr2, RR1, Rr2, RR1, Rr2, RR1, Rr2, RR1-v, Rr2, RR1, Rr2, RR1-v, Rr2
Eastern Phoebe Dawn Song Variation
Tallying up all 92 songs this phoebe sang in the 3:09 minutes that I recorded it, there were 21 RR1, 26 RR1-v, and 45 Rr2.
In the somewhat limited research I have conducted, I have not found any mention of this or a similar phenomenon in the vocal behavior of Eastern Phoebes. Similarly, a somewhat cursory search through xeno-canto, Macaulay Library, and the Borror Laboratory online archives, did not turn up anything either. So I don’t believe there is any way to tell at this point if this is just the behavior of an unusual individual, or if it represents a sample of a wider phenomenon. It is definitely something I will be keeping and eye and ear open for in the future.
April is the best time to hear the various sounds of Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata) in south-eastern Wisconsin, the most distinctive being the “winnowing” produced by air passing through specialized tail feathers as the birds perform flight displays.
produced by airflow over outstretched outer rectrices of spread tail, modulated by beating of wing. –
Birds of North America Online
Another category of Snipe sounds are the “Jick” and “Chipper” calls:
Wilson's Snipe Jick Call
Here is a description of the equivalent call from the closely related Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)
On the nesting grounds, males deliver their display songs from conspicuous perches as loud “TIKa, TIKa, TIKa” or “kit, kit, kit, kit, kit…” notes.
(see this blog post for additional examples http://pjdeye.blogspot.com/2009/05/shorebird-calls-iii-woodcock-and-snipe.html)
The “scaipe” call is commonly heard when snipe are flushed. They shoot up from the marsh or wet meadow and fly in a zig-zag pattern, usually uttering several of these calls. Here is an example of a bird recorded in exactly this type of situation as I was walking at the edge of a marsh:
Wilson's Snipe scaipe call
This morning, while recording in the Kettle Moraine State Park, Waukesha Co, WI, I was lucky enough to get recordings of a Red-tailed Hawk and a Blue Jay mimicking a Red-tailed Hawk:Red-tailed Hawk Blue Jay mimics Red-tailed Hawk
I’ve read the opinion that this common call of the Blue Jay is just coincidentally similar to the Red-tail’s call, but after viewing these sonograms together I have no doubt it is mimicry. Note especially the similarity between the last calls of each.
On August 2, 2009 I recorded juvenile Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) begging calls at Vernon Marsh, Waukesha County, WI..Yellow-headed Blackbird juvenile begging calls
One juvenile is in the foreground in a small bush. Behind it is another bush with a least one more juvenile. At 21s. an adult female lands with food in front of the first juvenile. You can hear an intensification in the begging calls at that point, with an increase in the frequency of calling and also an increase in the length of the calls.
I found another recording of juvenile Yellow-headed blackbirds at the Borror Laboratory site, recorded on July 3, 1970 in North Dakota. The begging call in this recording is very similar to the one in my recording, as can be seen from a comparison of the spectrograms.
My recording is on the top and the Borror recording on the bottom.
I’m not sure what to attribute the differences in the wave form to. Could be they are from different periods in the development of the juveniles. It would be great to obtain a series of recordings of one individual over the course of its first summer.
Over the past two months I’ve been conducting my own version of Donald Kroodsma’s Solstice experiment. I’m not making any claims for the scientific rigor of this very informal experiment, but the results are interesting, and they do conform roughly to Kroodsma’s results.
The X-axis represents the date and the Y-axis represents the number of song-type vocalizations heard.
In early Nov. 2009 I established a route of 1.13 miles through Estabrook Park, Milwaukee, WI. This route takes an hour to walk at a relaxed pace. I attempted to start each session as close to dawn as possible and to complete the route in as close as 1 hour as possible. While walking the route I noted all song type vocalizations heard. Each bird making a song type vocalization counted as 1. I did not count additional songs coming from the same individual.
Nov 7, 2009: 0630-0730. Estabrook Park, WI., 52 degrees, clear skies.
0 song type vocalizations
Nov 14, 2009: 0640-0740. Estabrook Park, WI,. 44 degrees, cloudy.
0 song type vocalizations
Nov 21, 2009: 0650-0750. Estabrook Park, WI,. 45 degrees, cloudy.
1 singing House Finch
Nov 27, 2009: 0710-0810. Estabrook Park, WI,. 45 degrees, cloudy.
0 song type vocalizations
Dec 6, 2009: 0700-0800. Estabrook Park, WI,. 30 degrees, cloudy.
0 song type vocalizations
Dec 13, 2009: 0715-0815. Estabrook Park, WI,. 33 degrees, cloudy.
2 song type vocalizations: house finch, european starling
Dec 20, 2009: 0715-0815. Estabrook Park, WI,. 22 degrees, cloudy.
10 song type vocalizations:
1 house finch
1 crow rattle
4 BCCH (2 countersinging)
3 WBNU (2 countersinging)
Dec 21, 2009: 0715-0815. Estabrook Park, WI,. 22 degrees, cloudy.
9 song type vocalizations:
2 House Finch
Dec 24, 2009: 720-820, Estabrook Park, WI,. 32 degrees, cloudy and windy.
2 Song type vocalizations: 1 WBNU, 1 EUST
Dec 26, 2009: 720-820, Estabrook Park, WI,. 26 degrees, light snow, windy.
5 song type vocalizations:
3 BCCH (2 countersinging)
1 crow rattle
Dec 27, 2009: 720-820, Estabrook Park, WI,. 22 degrees, cloudy.
7 song type vocalizations:
4 BCCH (2 countersinging)
1 American Robin
I remain skeptical about the significance of the actual winter solstice to birds and its effect on their singing behavior. However, I do think that this experiment demonstrates that the beginning of the singing season falls at approximately the same time as the winter solstice for several common bird species of the eastern North American temperate forests. The species in question are the White-breasted Nuthatch and the Black-capped Chickadee. For the 6 sessions between Nov 7 and Dec 13, no White-breasted Nuthatches or Black-capped Chickadees were heard singing (they were seen or heard calling in all of these sessions, but not singing). After that date, the White-breasted Nuthatch was heard singing on all 5 sessions and the Black-capped Chickadee on 4 of the 5. This change in the singing behavior of these two species accounts for a considerable amount of the increased singing activity evident in the results.
This fall I recorded two separate instances of sub-song in the Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) .
1) Vernon Marsh, Waukesha County, WI. September 6, 2009.Marsh Wren subsong
2) Horicon Marsh, WI, November 8, 2009. This is a very late date for Marsh Wrens in Wisconsin. The BNA account mentions juveniles practicing song into October, so in that respect this seems rather late as well.Marsh Wren subsong
The Marsh Wren quality is evident in these juvenile efforts but they lack the organization, structure and assurance of the adult song.
Compare to adult – recorded at Vernon Marsh on June 14, 2009. Here we have six songs sung in succession, all different (immediate variety) but all highly structured, with definite organization and exact duplication of song units.Marsh Wren
American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis), June 27, 2009, Jackson Marsh, Washington County, WI.
I’ve searched the archives at Xeno-Canto and Macaulay Library but I haven’t been able to find another recording of this particular vocalization. Superficially it is similar to the well-know “potato-chip” flight call, but the speed of delivery is faster, the notes are ascending, and there are more than 4 notes per series. Unfortunately I do not know the sex of the bird vocalizing. I observed a pair of goldfinches fly into an area of dense shrubbery and this is the sound that came forth. I didn’t have a visual of the bird while I was recording. Given that, I cannot be 100% certain that this is actually an American Goldfinch, but considering the overall quality of the vocalization, the location, season, and circumstance, I believe it is a fair call.