Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Song sparrows

Photo by Paul Sullivan
When you're ready to tackle sparrow identification, the song sparrow is a good bird to start with. For one thing, it is probably the most common sparrow in the Northwest US, and for another, it's easy to identify once you know what to look for. These birds have brownish streaks on their breasts, but here in the Pacific Northwest, the streaks converge to form a central spot. 


As you might expect from a bird with the word "song" in its name, its call is also one you can learn to recognize. Thoreau interpreted the male's three short notes and buzzy trill as "Maids! Maids! Maids! Hang up your teakettle-ettle-ettle!" but other interpretations are "Hip-hip-hip-hooray, boys, spring's here!" and "Pres-pres-pres-byteri-eri-erian," and the more ecumenical "Peace-peace-peace unto you, my children."


See if you can hear the beat of those phrases--or come up with a better interpretation--by listening to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website's song sparrow call here

14 comments:

  1. Roxie sez
    Oh this is wonderful!  I've heard the little beggars in the mornings when I go to get the paper.  Now I know who they are.  How big is a song sparrow? Bigger than a finch?  Smaller than a starling?  What a treat!!

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  2. Roxie, you've made my day!!!
    Song sparrows  are smaller than a starling--yes, more the size of a finch.

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  3. I listened very carefully, and I believe they are saying "dee dee dee blurgh dip-dip-dip-blzkrnth." Although that might just be the Northern Frabjous song sparrow.

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  4. Hmmm. I actually think you're closer than Thoreau was. 

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  5. Don't you just love how they try to make bird sounds into human words? One English bird is supposedly saying something along the lines of "This here is my bit. Go and starve on  your own." Pretty close translation, yes? 
    One that always kills me is in some guide that declares the Redwing Blackbird says "Oak-a-leerio." Huh!

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  6. I used your link to go to the Ornithology website and was thrilled to listen to the recording of these sprightly little fellows.  A dear friend of mine who knew wood minutely could identify practically every single bird just by its song.  She made hiking such an experience, all the senses engaged.  Thank you for all your nature posts.

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  7. Oh, I think the redwing blackbird's call just sounds liquid--like moving water over stones, you know?

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  8. Yeah, I can recognize only a very few birds by their calls. I know its a whole different world for birders who recognize who's talking out there. 

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  9. Gotta chip in again here. My husband swears the red-winged blackbird says "pull on my PE-ter." Try not to think of that next time you hear one.

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  10. Love this post, since I recently posted too about discovering the song of the song sparrow. 

    But sadly, Google has shut down my blog because I have chosen not to disclose my age.  I have 28 days to send them my credit card to keep on file as proof that I am older than 13!  If I don't comply they will destroy all my blogposts.  It's a nature blog, for crying out loud. Can they do this?!?!?!?!?!   Is it safe to send them my credit card info?  Anyone out there know about this issue?

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  11. Oh jeez. Now "oak-a-leerio" is starting to sound good... 

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  12. When I was in Egypt a tiny song sparrow lit outside my hotel window and sung to me.  It looked just like the sparrows back home. I was very homesick at the time and comforted by its song.

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  13. Update:  Blog is back.  After spending hours online reading peer Q&A sites and getting no help, I called VISA to make sure it was safe, then gave in and paid the $0.30 to prove I'm of age---under threat of having all my blogposts permanently destroyed.   Google made no friends on this one.  Lots of angry bloggers out there.  Google has NO customer service staff to contact with questions---they simply ignored  the protest and questions. And they are getting away with it.  Believe it or not, I got help immediately from a very pleasant and attentive VISA customer service agent.  Google should take a lesson! 

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